Giving your teen independence
Aschildren enter the teenage years, they seek more and more independenceand autonomy. Although children spend less time around their parents asthey get older and become busy with school, friends, and activities, itis important that as a parent you know what your child is up to. Opencommunication is vital to a healthy parent-child relationship, and youshould be actively involved in your childs life. Through goodcommunication with their parents, children can learn how to think forthemselves and make wise choices.
Within safe limits
Keep talking about safety. Nomatter how old your child is, you should continue to remind her to beaware of her surroundings and any people or situations that make herfeel uncomfortable. With her newfound independence, she may not thinktwice when someone stops her to ask directions or make small talk. Ifshe feels even remotely unsure or unsafe, she should call you or tellthe closest responsible adult. In public places such as the mall ormovies, encourage her to stay in well lit, public places with morepeople and go to the bathroom with a friend. Finally, talk aboutharassment and abuse, and remind her that gender and age do not matterwhen it comes to these things.
Teens in public places. Especiallyin suburban areas, teens have been meeting at the mall or the movies onFriday and Saturday nights for years. However, many of these places arestarting to require teens to be accompanied by adults because ofconcerns that teens are being loud and acting out. Find out what therules are with regards to teens, whether at the mall, the movietheater, or some other place, and make sure your child is aware ofthem. Ask who he will be with, and how he will get there and back. Ifyour child is seeing a movie, find out what it is about and what it israted.
Teens and transportation.If you live in an area with public transportation, your child may begyou to let her start going places by herself or with friends. This isentirely your decision to make. If you feel comfortable that your childis mature enough and the area is safe, you can start letting your childdo so as she enters her teen years. If you take your child to schoolusing public transportation, this may be a good way to start. If yourchild wants to use public transportation to go places with or to meetfriends, start with short distances during daylight hours. In eithercase, make sure she knows where her stops are both ends and ifpossible, ask her to let you know when she arrives. If you live in anarea where driving is the only option, you may find that your childstarts getting rides from peers. Know the rules in your state withregards to teen drivers, and make sure your child knows, too. Talkabout drinking and driving and make an agreement that she will not ridein a car with someone who has been drinking but will call you for aride.
Define appropriate behavior.Whether your child is going to a public place, school dance, orfriends house, the same behaviors, etiquette, and activities that areexpected of him at home apply wherever he is. If your teen does make abad choice, keep in mind that everyone gets caught up in certainsituations and makes a wrong decision every once in a while and thesemistakes are lessons to learn from. Be there for your teen if he comesto you for help and support not matter what mistake he may have made.Let him know that if he calls you for help, you will be there first andask questions later.
Set limits, rules and consequences.Remind your teen that you need to know where she is and who she is withat all times. You need to be able to trust her in order to give her theindependence she wants. Although she may get upset about curfews orhaving to check in with you, it is your job to keep her safe. Involveyour teen by giving her an active role in defining appropriatebehavior, contributing to creating the rules, and establishingconsequences. If a rule is broken, it is an acceptable punishment foryour child to lose a privilege such as computer, phone, or TV time.
Take an interest.Make it a point to know who your teens friends are and meet or talk totheir parents. Talk to your teen when he returns from an outing withfriends to keep the lines of communication open. He may just need tovent about a fight he had with a friend and being interested in hislife will help him come to you and confide in you. Remember, your teenis slowly becoming an adult, and you will see that at times you can behis peer as well as his parent.
Thisinformation was compiled by Sunindia Bhalla, One Tough Job Manager, andreviewed by the Program Staff of the Massachusetts Childrens TrustFund.