What your teen needs to learn
4 steps your teenager needs to take to become an independent adult.
Megan de Beyer and Jason Bantjes
Healthy adolescent development requires, among other things, that teens successfully accomplish these important tasks: They need to gain control over their lives; establish the beginnings of an adult identity; and ultimately free themselves from the constraints of the family. They are also learning about sexuality and relationships, all important steps towards becoming a fully rounded adult.
Article originally in Parent24
1. Gain control
Your teenager needs to enter adulthood knowing that they have control over their lives and destinies. They will need to have the confidence and necessary skills to make their own decisions. They’ll need to accept that their actions will have consequences that they will have to live with.
Many of the arguments that you and your teen have are nothing more than an attempt on their part to achieve autonomy over their own lives. Welcome these as signs that your child is maturing and endeavour to help them learn the skills they need to make their own decisions. Your teen needs your approval, love and support no matter what they say or do.
2. Establish an identity
- Give your teen clear but reasonable limits. They need to know where the boundaries are. Limits provide your teen with security and safety, and allow them to learn to make decisions. Negotiate freedom within boundaries.
- Try to create opportunities for your teen to make their own decisions and be autonomous. This might include, for example, managing their own finances and buying their own clothes and toiletries.
- Be available to give advice when it is asked for but step back whenever possible. Coming to your teen’s rescue unnecessarily or prematurely may send them the wrong message.
- Freedom comes with responsibility. They need to stick to agreements. Help them set personal goals.
- Tolerate as much independence as you can and remember that your child is not rejecting you, they're just growing into themselves. If most of your arguments start or end with them saying, “Why do you always treat me like a child?”, then independence is probably an issue.
- Accept your limitations. You cannot force your teenager to work harder than they want to nor can you get them to do homework that they have decided not to do. All you can do is make sure they know the consequences of what they are doing.
Your teen needs to enter adulthood with a clear idea of who they are. They need to be aware of their strengths, weaknesses, values, goals, and beliefs, and to perceive themselves as being unique and valuable members of their communities.
They need to feel that others accept and respect them for who they are. To achieve this, your teen will challenge the things you say, the values you hold and your opinions. This is not a rejection of you; it is part of a process of searching for their identity.
3. Liberate themselves from the family
- Remember that your child is an individual, not merely an extension of you. Do not expect your teen to share your dreams, ambitions and values; they have their own.
- Aid them to build their self-esteem: Expect blaming and projection from them due to their fragile and immature ego identities.
Your child needs to feel that they are part of the family but at the same time separate from it. Much of your teen’s challenging adolescent behaviour stems from an attempt to perceive themselves as their own person who, while still having a role to play in their family, is distinct from the family.
4. Understand intimacy
- Understand that your teen will start to look outside of the family unit for emotional support, approval, recognition and acceptance. This is a normal part of growing up. If you attempt to limit this you may force them to liberate themselves from the family in a way that is painful for everyone.
- Be more self-aware especially of what your own needs are, and find interests outside your child’s life.
For the first time their relationships have become eroticised and they are discovering how to deal with new urges and drives within a romantic relationship. Attachment is something they are learning to negotiate.
This can also be an intense phase of establishing who their real friends really are. They needs to understand how to be a true friend themselves. Team sports help this process as they insist on loyalty and camaraderie.
Alcohol, drugs and parties are a part of the choices they'll be faced with and if strict boundaries are not in place a teen may disrupt their maturing conscience.
How have you enabled your teen to become more independent?
- Friendships become all important. Acknowledge that your teen’s generation values friendship and relationships far more than our generation.
- Never stop telling your child that you love them.
- Ask your child for (and listen to) their opinion. Our teens’ have incredible insight on issues of (among other things) morality, politics and relationships. They understand the complexities of the “big issues” and want to discuss them. Your teen needs to know that you value their views and that their opinions count.
- Show an interest in what your teen does but accept that they will not tell you everything; secrets are part of being a teenager.