All teens yearn for independence, wanting more control over their lives and a bigger say in what they can and can't do. Yet, to become fully independent adults, they also need a series of life skills and the help and encouragement of parents. Here's how to help them spread their wings.
Related: Life skills for kids
How can you encourage independence in teens?
A poll from the University of Michigan has found that 97% of parents say they are helping their teens become more independent. But at the same time, a quarter admit that they are the main barrier to their teen's independence by not taking the time or effort to give their teen more responsibility.
The survey, which surveyed parents of teens ages 13-17, also found that the most common strategies parents use to help their teens become more independent were:
Allowing them to make more choices: 86% of parents say they allow their teens to make more choices about their lives, such as what they want to wear and eat and what they want to do with their free time.
Pushing them to handle things themselves: 74% of parents say they try to get their teens to handle things themselves, such as doing their laundry, making their meals, and taking care of their belongings.
No longer doing things for them: 65% of parents say they have stopped doing some things for their teens that they could do for themselves, such as driving them to school or running errands for them.
If you want to help your teen other tactics to help them include:
Giving them more responsibility
Start by giving your teen responsibility and control over decisions – but start small. Let them decide when to do their homework, how much money to spend when they are out, and where and when they will meet friends. Once you feel more confident about how they do things, give them more responsibility.
Believing in them
If teens believe they can do things, they are more likely to try new things and take chances. So avoid giving them too much direction or too many worst case scenarios. Instead let them tackle hard things and give them the space to ask for help when they need it. This is essential for developing independence, and allowing teens to learn and grow from their experiences.
Not taking over
Tempting as it is to take over when you see them struggling or getting things wrong, don't jump in. Allow them to figure things out, which will build their self-sufficiency and confidence.
Letting them do things their way
You may want to show your child the best way to do things, but it's only when teens are allowed to make their own choices that they begin to trust their own judgement and develop their own sense of identity.
Accountability is the ability to take responsibility for your actions and to be answerable to others. It means encouraging teens to take responsibility for mistakes, not fulfilling commitments, and missing deadlines.
Skills to help teens to become more independent
The following skills can help teens as they move towards becoming more independent and less reliant on you.
Help your teen to understand different emotions and how they feel. Talk about how emotions can be triggered by various events or situations and help your teen to identify their triggers. This will then allow you to teach your teen coping mechanisms that can help them regulate their emotions, such as relaxation techniques, positive self-talk, and counting to ten when angry.
To help your teens understand goal setting, ask them what they want to achieve and how they plan to do it. Try to let your teens set their own goals to ensure they stay committed and motivated. Watching them choose a goal you disapprove of might be challenging but it’s yet another way to build their independence.
Allowing your child real-world experience with money and money management is key to financial independence as an adult. GoHenry research shows how financial education – including pocket money can help establish great financial habits for adulthood. Our research discovered that over half (51%) of those who received financial education as a child have up to £5,000 cash savings in an ISA or savings account compared to under a third (30%) of those who didn't.
If you give your children pocket money, pay this regularly so they can budget and save their own money. At the same time, talk to them about needs versus wants, delaying gratification, spending and saving so they have the tools to help them manage their money as an adult.
Time management and organisation
When teens learn how to manage their time and stay organised, they know how to work efficiently, and this gives them a sense of control over their time. Time management and organisation also require self-discipline, as teens must resist distractions and focus on their work. These are important skills for independence, as they allow teens to work on impulse control to make responsible decisions.
One of the elements that your teen needs to understand is that with independence comes responsibility. And the reality is that most responsibilities are not fun, so teens naturally don't want to do them. Why tidy their room when they can watch TikTok, and why do homework when they can talk to friends? It's why teens need clear expectations around tasks to practise being responsible.
Related: Teaching responsibility to a teen
Teens also need to learn to make decisions independently by weighing the pros and cons of different options. Give your teen opportunities to make decisions, as doing this will help them learn to take ownership of their actions. For example, you could ask your teen to choose what they want for dinner or get them to plan a day out with friends or even decide when they go to bed.
To learn how to solve problems, teens need to be able to identify the problem, brainstorm solutions, and implement a solution. When your teen faces a problem, don't rush in with solutions; ask open-ended questions to help them think through the situation. Doing this will help them to identify the problem and find an answer.
Ensure your teens know how to care for themselves physically and emotionally. This is a vital aspect of being independent and includes eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and managing stress.
Telltale signs that a teen is seeking independence by acting out
The push to become independent and in charge of their own lives often puts teens at odds with parents who want to keep their kids safe and secure. This, in turn, can lead to arguments, defiance, anger and frustration and even feelings of rejection on both sides.
Lorraine Candy, Postcards from Midlife podcaster and author of Mum What's Wrong With You: 101 things only mothers of teenage girls know, says: "When your children hit their tweens and teenage years, they are beginning the normal process of separating from you. It's hard to anticipate how this will look, but one thing experts told me when I wrote my book on parenting adolescents is that teens need some privacy to start to separate from you and form their adult identity.
They need to do this alone and to have time away from the family unit to work out how they feel about things. So, painful as it may be, you should allow them this space - they are building their adult identity; it’s a hard thing to do as their neurology changes, so they need private time for this. They also need quiet time and rest away from the family, which soothes them neurologically."
Here are some of the classic acting-out scenarios teens display and what to do about them.
Saying no to you
Even if your child is usually compliant, the teen years inevitably bring a certain amount of refusal. Rather than see this as defiance, ask them to state their case and compromise on what they can and can't refuse. Saying 'no' is an assertion that your teen wants more control of their choices.
Challenging your authority
Challenges could manifest in arguments, lies, eye-rolling, sighs or outright defiance so it’s important to remember that this is a normal part of the teen experience, even if it’s hard to deal with. It helps to let teens know what you expect from them regarding responsibilities, behaviour, and respect – especially if they want more independence.
It's also very typical for teens to push back against boundaries. If they want a later bedtime, refuse to do homework or break curfews, remember that this is another bid for independence. Again, choose your battles; some boundaries need to be there, and others can be adapted with age. Talk to your teen and make decisions together.
Wanting to spend more time alone
Being alone and wanting more privacy is another teen mode that you might view as acting out. You might notice them retreat to their bedroom more often or find that they don’t want to spend time with you. Teens need to withdraw from their parents to establish their autonomy, sort through their feelings privately, and choose to do what they like with their leisure time, so allow them time alone.
Saying they no longer like what they used to like
Often saying no to things you know they love is a way to show you that they have changed and are changing. Again it's about autonomy and wanting to assert themselves.
Refusing to let you post pictures on them on social media
Teens have a right to privacy, and if they don't want you to post pictures of them, it's a sign they want more say in their lives. Remember there are many reasons why a teen might not want their picture posted on social media; they might not want their friends to see it, or they might not like how they look in the picture.
Not letting you meet their friends
Again not letting you into their social circle is a sign of independence and having their own life away from yours. It’s an important developmental stage as teens try to figure out who they are and where they fit in the world. They need to have their own space and their friends to do this. Let them know that you are there for them if they need you, but that you also respect their need for privacy.
How can GoHenry help?
GoHenry is a prepaid teen debit card that can help teens in several ways. Not only does it give teens the independence to use a debit card in the real world, but it also helps them learn about the value of money and how to make smart financial decisions. It teaches them about money management and the importance of tracking their spending, and also allows them to set savings goals.