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YOUTH AT HAND: Teaching Your Teen Responsibility, and How to Handle Freedom

Having worked at the Rye Youth Council, specializing in adolescents for almost 16 years, I thought I’d be prepared for the teen years. But now that my firstborn is a pre-teen, I can tell you emphatically that it is difficult to prepare for this wonderful, difficult stage of life.


By Casey DeCola

 

Having worked at the Rye Youth Council, specializing in adolescents for almost 16 years, I thought I’d be prepared for the teen years. But now that my firstborn is a pre-teen, I can tell you emphatically that it is difficult to prepare for this wonderful, difficult stage of life.


I remember reading a saying, “Parents give their children roots and wings,” but I never gave it too much thought until now. How do I do both? This time is coming much too fast and much too soon. Still, I realize that as much as I might want to keep my child a child forever, I must help promote her independence and allow her more autonomy — with her father and me as safety net.

 

As our children grow in years, they crave freedom more than anything. While we want them to develop into responsible, capable individuals — and we know they need some independence for this to happen — we are also greatly concerned about their safety and well-being.

 

Research tells us that adolescents do best when they remain closely connected to their parents, but at the same time are allowed to express their own point of view and even to disagree. As teens become more independent, they need the freedom to make mistakes and to face the consequences of their mistakes. Though we are their safety net, we must allow them to learn from their mistakes.

 

So how do we strike a healthy balance?

 

First, set limits and expectations. While they push for independence, teens want and need limits. Limits provide a framework for them to operate in and allow them to feel safe, secure, and loved. Setting limits should begin early on, but it’s never too late to start. Be clear about your expectations and don’t leave too much room for interpretation.

 

Independence should be given in stages. If you feel your teen is mature enough to handle more responsibilities or freedom, give him more privileges. When deciding what these privileges will be, discuss all the attendant health and safety issues. Let them know that you don’t want them getting in a car with anyone who has been drinking. The high rate of accident and injury among teens is no small matter, and you can’t stress this fact enough.

 

In order to help your children become healthy, responsible adults who can problem-solve and use good judgment, you need to help them develop these abilities. While they are still living at home and have your love and support and others who care deeply about them, teens need to make mistakes when the risks are not too high and no one’s safety is at risk. They need to learn from those mistakes, not by being rescued, but by working through the mistake so that they do not repeat it. Natural consequences to their actions should also be enforced.

 

It is important to remember that many of the “major threats to a child’s future health and happiness are not a matter of chance, but a matter of choice — choices like drinking and driving, smoking, drugs, and sexual activity.” Our children and teens look to us as their role models, even when we don’t think they are watching. Your words, your body language, your tone of voice, and your parenting will make all of the difference in your children’s lives.


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