Teen Independence: How to Encourage It, Safely

As you begin loosening the reins and giving your teen independence, make sure to set boundaries and arm your child with the tools they need to make good decisions to stay safe.

Fostering teen independence is a balancing act for parents who want to give their kids freedom but have safety concerns. Although your first instinct may be to lock the front door and keep your children safe at home, giving them the independence they seek is a natural part of growing up. While we may not be looking forward to the day they spread their wings and move into their first dorm or apartment, it’s a looming reality once high school starts. As parents, our goal is to help kids become upstanding and productive adults. Granting a teenager a reasonable amount of freedom can give them the self-confidence they will need for the future and will help make their overall transition to adulthood easier for everyone in the family.

The teenage brain is a work in progress. Even though your child might bring home straight As on their report card, the prefrontal cortex is still developing. The prefrontal cortex is the portion of the brain in charge of judgment and self-control. Learn more about alcohol’s effects on the developing brain, as highlighted in Alcohol & The Adolescent Brain: Immediate Impairment, Long-Term Consequences, a report from Talk It Out NC and the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

To make matters even more challenging, the responsibilities of children and teens are on the rise. The outbreak of the pandemic forced children to attend school remotely and isolated them from their friends, but the pressure to get good grades and perform well in sports remained. As our nervous, stressed-out teens return to in-person learning, parents can play an active role in helping their teenagers. Setting boundaries and teaching your teen proper coping skills as they enjoy their new freedoms is key. Here are a few ideas to get started.

Set House Rules.

Despite a push for independence, teens need rules and guidelines to ensure they behave responsibly. Every home with teenagers should develop a list of house rules they expect their children to follow. Rules will help keep them safe, enhance social skills, and create healthy habits. They also give teens a sense of security. Have a family meeting to develop a list of reasonable rules for your teen. Here are some of the top areas you should focus on when developing rules to keep them safe.

  • Underage Drinking. At least 29% of high school students drank alcohol in the last 30 days, according to a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control in 2019. The average age most children start experimenting with drinking is 14 years old. Alcohol is responsible for the death of at least 3,500 kids under the age of 21 each year. Parents need to set a no-tolerance policy to protect their child from the perils of underage drinking. Arm your teen with the facts about the risks of underage drinking, and Take the Pledge to Start the Conversation with your teen about alcohol.
  • Curfew. Receiving a curfew is a rite of passage for every teenager. Curfews help teens learn responsibility, promote safety, and give parents peace of mind.
  • Responsible Driving. Letting your children drive is a scary proposition for any parent. In 2019, 2,400 teens died in car accidents, and an additional 258,000 had to be treated at emergency rooms. Parents can retain their sanity by laying down the law about speeding and texting while driving. If you need additional resources, Street Safe offers lively interactive discussions on driving behaviors and decision-making that can help teach teens how to think differently behind the wheel.

You and your teen may come up with other categories that are important for your family, such as phone usage, self-care, and dating. In the end, each family needs to set their own boundaries and put them in writing.

Put Your Teen to Work.

If you are still doing your teen’s laundry or vacuuming their bedroom, wind up the cord and put them in charge. Teenagers need to be able to wake up on time, make their school lunch, and participate in regular household chores. Giving teenagers responsibilities on the home front will help prepare them for when they take the wheel and back out of the driveway without a parent for the first time

Be a Good Role Model.

Make sure to practice what you preach. If you do not want your child to swear, resist the urge to curse when another car cuts you off. If you do not want your child to smoke, kick that unhealthy habit to the curb. While your teen may no longer look up at you adoringly as they did in preschool, they are always watching and learning from your actions.

Setting boundaries and helping your kids learn how to make wise decisions will help them stay safe as they take steps to be independent. It takes a village to raise a teen, and Talk It Out NC is here to help. Visit Talk It Out NC to get more information on underage drinking, or to get tips on how to Start the Conversation about alcohol. You can also visit www.yourteenmag.com for more advice on parenting teenagers.