If you ask most teenagers, they will say that they’d love to have more freedom. Adolescence is a time when children transition into adults, and during these years, it’s common for teens to push boundaries as they try to find their own places in the world. As a parent, however, you might be reluctant to grant more freedom; after all, more freedom for your teen means more time spent away from your supervision and oversight. This can lead to mistakes that, in some cases, can follow your teen for years. Here are some considerations to keep in mind as you begin to give your adolescent more freedom.
Give More Freedom in Small Doses
Children do not go from a protected and sheltered childhood directly into the privileges and freedom of adulthood. The teen years are the ideal time to begin giving your child tastes of independence that will eventually lead to complete freedom once he or she becomes an adult. Start with what you’re comfortable with, keeping in mind that the goal is to expand your teen’s freedom of choice as time passes.
It’s a good idea to let your teen begin to prove that he or she can be responsible. For instance, does your teenager get him- or herself up and ready for the day without you having to be involved? Is homework completed regularly? These are signs that he or she can handle periods where they make their own decisions. On the other hand, if your teen is not able to take responsibility for getting themselves ready and taking care of homework and chores without reminders, you can let them know that you don’t feel comfortable giving them more freedoms until they show that they can handle their own obligations.
Keep in Mind Your Primary Goals
Your teenager’s primary goal is to eventually have complete control over his or her life. Your goal, however, is to shepherd your teen along as he or she becomes more like an adult. It’s essential that you both are on the same page when it comes to issues like protection and privacy. While your teen might think that his or her privacy should come first, as a parent, you know that you have to keep your teen safe. This type of conflict needs a smart balance so that you aren’t putting your teen at risk while you give him or her the freedom they desire.
By building up freedom gradually, you can become more comfortable with the way your teen takes care of him- or herself. For example, if your teen makes it a habit to tell you where they are going and who they are with and you know that they are making good choices (and telling the truth), it is reasonable to tell them that they can just check in with you at a designated time rather than texting you every time they go to a different location. On the other hand, if your child struggles with remembering to keep you in the loop, your job to protect him or her comes before their desire for privacy. If warranted, you might need to put a locater app on your teen’s phone in case they forget to contact you and don’t answer your calls or texts. This is a consequence that does limit their privacy, but it also keeps them safe.
Establish Clear Rules and Consequences
It’s important to establish boundaries before giving additional freedoms to your teen. If you choose to impose a curfew, make sure that they know what time they must be in. If you say 11:00, does that mean that they must be in the door at 11 or risk a consequence, or is it okay as long as they’re home by about 11:15? Every family has different lines drawn in the sand, so make sure that your teen is aware of what yours are.
Come up with reasonable consequences for broken rules. Coming in five minutes late should elicit a different consequence than drinking at a party, for example. Removing privileges is generally the consequence of choice among parents of teens. You can also come up with logical consequences. If, for example, you had to stay up late waiting for a teen who ran late, it’s reasonable that you might need extra rest the next day and won’t be able to drive them to a friend’s house in the morning as planned. It is important for your teen to understand that his or her actions do affect others.
Help Your Teen Make Good Decisions
When giving a teen more freedom, it’s important to discuss situations that might come up ahead of time so they can learn to make good decisions. Talk about what they should do if they are at a party where alcohol is served. Are you okay with them staying as long as they’re not drinking? Or should they call you immediately? Assure your child that you will come and get them at any time of the day or night if the person who is supposed to drive them home has been drinking or using drugs. Make sure they know that this includes a situation where your own teen decides to drink.
Handle Setbacks Correctly
Your teen is bound to make some mistakes as he or she navigates new freedoms and increased responsibilities. It’s normal for you to feel frustrated, worried, and angry, but try to keep it in perspective. Most of the time, mistakes are small and can be remedied. Don’t immediately repeal all freedoms granted; a short period of lost privileges suffices in most cases.
If your teen has committed a crime, driven while impaired, or done something else that warrants a serious consequence, try to take a day or two to calm down before deciding what to do. During this time, your teenager should stay home and should be restricted so you can keep them safe from making more bad choices. Remember that in many cases, people can and do recover and learn from bad decisions made when they are young. Seek professional help if necessary to help your teen and yourself over this hurdle.
Giving your teenager more freedom to grow into his or her own person can be overwhelming and, at the same time, exhilarating for a parent. Try to enjoy this time of watching your child spread his or her wings, and be ready to offer a soft landing spot if and when errors are made. Soon you will be the parent of an adult, so keep the end goal in mind as you finish these last few years of raising your child.
Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, and Founder and Executive Director of Paradigm Treatment Centers, who has been a respected leader in the field of adolescent mental health for more than 20 years. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California, his Master’s degree from Loyola Marymount University, his Doctoral degree from Pacific University’s APA approved Clinical Psychology program, and completed his training at the University of California, San Diego’s APA approved psychology internship program.
Dr. Nalin has provided training and mentoring to students entering the field of psychology at institutions of learning including Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology, UCSD, Pacific University, and Santa Monica College. He was also instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.
Dr. Nalin has appeared as an expert on shows ranging from CBS News and Larry King, to CNN, The Today Show and MTV. He was also featured in an Anti-Drug Campaign for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
Dr. Nalin is a Diplomate of the National Institute of Sports Professionals and a Certified Sports Psychologist as well as a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist. He lectures and conducts workshops nationally on the issues of teen mental health, substance abuse prevention, and innovative adolescence treatment.
In 2017 Dr. Nalin was awarded The Sigmund Freud Foundation and Sigmund Freud University’s Distinguished Achievement Award in recognition of his work with youth in the field of mental health over the course of his career.