Achieving Independence

Posted by The MindScape Team on 2/16/2022

Achieving Independence

Parenting a teenager is complex and in some ways, more challenging than ever. Today’s teens are constantly connected to their peers via cellphones and social media platforms and often have trouble disconnecting and being present. Parents, you have a tough role of managing the balancing act of caregiver vs. disciplinarian. Some days your teen is great, and other days, you may experience this:  

Your teenager comes home from school, grunts a hello to you (if you’re lucky), and immediately goes up to their bedroom. You may see them only when they emerge to find some food or use the bathroom. Or maybe you do see them, but only to argue, be yelled at, or have a door slammed in your face.   

You may find yourself feeling resentful when the effort and love you give your teen is not reciprocated. Here is some good news, child development studies show us that many of these behaviors are normal and even healthy. When a child reaches adolescence, they start to experience an increased desire to “individuate,” meaning they want to separate themselves from their parents and learn how to become independent. They want to make their own plans and decisions, spend money on what they choose, and hang out with new and different peers. 

You may notice your teen behaving in new ways, such as not completing their homework, breaking curfew, or trying a new wardrobe style. They are essentially practicing to be adults but still need your guidance. The road to adulthood can be rocky and often painful. Teen’s communication and problem-solving skills are not fully developed. They can be overconfident in their abilities and push away the people closest to them, like immediate family members, even when in need of connection. In attempts to individuate, teens innately desire to connect with their peers. As a result, they may have trouble disconnecting from social media such as Snapchat, Instagram, and Tiktok because online platforms are a part of building and maintaining those peer connections. 

Parents often bear the brunt of a teen’s attempts to develop the skills to be a responsible, independent, well-rounded member of society. Why are you the target? Because teenagers expect that their parents will still be there for them no matter how poorly they behave. So, how can you help your teen become more independent while still maintaining your sanity? Here are a few ideas:  

Stay Connected: Offer an opportunity to connect, even if you are sure they will reject your idea. This shows them that you care and that you will be there for them, no matter how many times they try to push you away. If you can, give them advance notice, such as inviting them on a walk the following day.  

Encourage Independence: Allow your teen to explore their independence. Remember that this is a natural process and a learning experience for them. As long as they are safe in doing so, let them try new things. If they have support around their healthy endeavors, they are more likely to talk to you before getting involved in situations that are less healthy.  

Active Listening: If they talk to you, give them your full attention and when asked for advice, ask them what THEY think might be a reasonable solution. Praise good ideas when they have them!

Recognizing Consequences: While you want your teen to grow, there will be times when they make poor decisions. Part of parenting a teen is teaching them to recognize that their choices have consequences. As their parent and caregiver, it’s up to you to put fair, proportional consequences in place.  

Parenting a teenager is stressful. You’ll make mistakes, just like your teen, but it can be rewarding. One day, they just may thank you for sticking with them, even when they made it so difficult for you.