Counseling Corner: Handling a teenager’s need to be more responsible

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One of the hardest things for many parents to deal with is their children’s demand for more freedoms as they grow into teenagers. After years of making most of your child’s decisions and putting your child’s needs first, you find yourself confronting a young adult who wants the freedom to face more of the world on his or her own.

On some level, of course, we all recognize that our teenagers need increasing amounts of freedom and responsibility. It’s a natural part of the developmental process.

At the same time, we realize there are very real reasons to go slowly in allowing more freedom. News reports and local stories of substance abuse, teen pregnancies, violence and more issues naturally make us worry about the world our teen is facing.

But when we constantly say “no” to our teens’ requests, trying to protect and shield them just a little longer, the result is often family conflict, with our teenager pulling away and no longer confiding in us, or perhaps going behind our backs seeking the desired freedom.

While there is no magic cure, there are steps you can take to minimize this conflict. The most important is simply to improve communications.

Sit down with your teen and try to explain your fears and anxieties related to granting increased freedoms. While hearing about your worries may not win your teen’s full acceptance or understanding, it can open up meaningful dialogue that can lead to acceptable compromises.

The next step is to go ahead and allow increasing amounts of freedom and responsibilities — opportunities for your teenager to prove he or she really is ready to be more independent.

How much can you trust? How much responsibility should you grant? There are no absolute answers, just judgment calls you have to make based on your teen’s personality and past performance.

Yes, mistakes will be made, but also note that most of the time things will turn out just fine. Try to understand that this is also a very difficult and often confusing process for your teen.

Your decisions are still going to worry you and upset your teen at times but when you make a conscious effort to allow increased levels of freedom and responsibility, while also fairly measuring how well your teen handles the changes, you should find that the struggles with your teenager should begin to diminish.

Counseling Corner is provided by the American Counseling Association. Learn more at www.counseling.org.

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