Updated: Sep 4, 2019
By Glyndora Condon MFT LPC; instructional article for parents.
The time of adolescence is a phase that requires a transition for not only the teen but also for their parents. It is a difficult time for both. Adolescents want their parents to respect their need for individuation in which they need more freedoms to grow more life skills such as thinking and discerning more on their own; and comprehending that choices present very real consequences from outside sources other than the parents.
Parents struggle with releasing control and protection of their teen and see that their teen is vulnerable and unprepared for the harsh world. They witness them being naive and see their gullibility. They see the culture and know the danger. Often their attempt to better prepare and to protect is perceived as lecturing and imprisonment.
There is then a need to transition into a planned emancipation. This requires a goal as to when this process is to be complete and it requires many changes but with the understanding that these freedoms will require responsibility and should not cause an inconvenience or problem in the home or with the parents. These freedoms come with certain expectations and some absolute restrictions as long as the home or money of the parent is being used by the teen. And, respect is to be a mutual rendering commodity by both parties regardless of a difference of opinion.
I recommend a book entitled: "Feeding the Mouth that Bites You" by Dr. Ken Wildess. He is a psychologist who has invested his profession studying and working closely with teens and their behaviors; and his insight and aids are most helpful.
It is most difficult for parents to let loose of control. Their lives have been focused upon protecting, teaching, governing, and loving their children. I understand that fear from a first hand accounting as a mother of two beautiful daughters. Adolescents scared me and when I was frightened, I reeled in the line instead of allowing slack. My over protectiveness was seen as imposing, controlling, and disrespectful attitude of their ability and need to make their own mistakes, while trying to keep them as children but I was petrified of them being hurt and did not handle their growing up well at all. I wish that I knew then what I know now. I wish I could turn back time but neither is possible. The best that I can do is to help our parents transition their new teens as they better prepare them for adulthood.
Parents need a freedom list. It may say something like; you can now keep your room however you wish as long as you understand that if we smell the dirty clothes or rotten food; have bugs or rodents, or like issues-then you will need to find a way to afford to laundry the clothing, exterminate the room and house, and like on your dollar and time. If our furnishings are destroyed, stained, or taken-then these will need to be replaced by like quality and approved furnishings at your expense. There will be no drugs or alcohol abuse in our home and not overnight stays with any who are of an opposite gender or same gender (sexual intent). It may be advised that their bedroom door is closed at all times so that the rest of the family does not have to witness the chaos within.
Other freedoms may include extended curfews or none, yet with the responsibility to check in regularly so as to inform the parents that the child is okay and with whom they are with; along with an address in case of an emergency. Basically the rules may more resemble that of a dorm or an apartment that is being rented for the most part. If children do not get in at a decent hour and miss school then they face the consequences. If children use any other part of the house then they are to respect the property and the others who reside in the house; waiting their turn, sharing, and being appropriate in word and deed; and will clean up after self. The teen washes their own clothing, is responsible to wake selves, is responsible to prepare their food and clean up; and may also be responsible to pay for expenses, room, transportation, or fines if the teen does not comply with their new freedoms and expectations or as part of their responsibility for their freedom. Freedom is not free and teens have only a short time to learn life skills.
Parents back off but are available for guidance only if asked. Parents can have rewards should the teen opt to work added chores.
That guidance is in the form of questions that are directive in order for the teen to develop their frontal lobe of decision making, conflict resolution, and discernment instead of telling the teen what to do. Instead of running the teen to and fro, or checking to make sure they remembered their things then the parents respectfully allow the children/teens their mistakes and their consequences. Parents must also have a serious discussion as to safe sex and what happens should their teen be responsible for a new life, and help the teen to also comprehend that if the jail calls with their teen, then this too will be their teen's responsibility to make whatever it was right at their expense. With this hard life lessons-and without enabling; then teens will be better equipped with life skills when their high school years come to an end. Teens also will need to understand the boundaries for their phones and screen use when in the family forum, at the table, or during the night when the teen needs to sleep since the brain is not equipped to handle 24/7 stimulation that screens abuse.
Parents are afraid often and fear losing their teens when slacking off of control. Parents must understand that their teen cannot be controlled at this point but can be influenced by their example of how to resolve conflicts, how to budget, how to respect others, and how to trust God and their parenting. Children will watch your lead and will test the boundaries, but when respected and allowed their consequences and freedom; they can also grow. Teens often are more compliant when the parent is respectful and is trusting them to make the right decisions in most cases. Boundaries must be concise and clear.