Imagine for a moment a three year old who has never tasted candy. Now imagine, letting this three year old loose in a candy store. What do you think will happen? Take another three year old who has been allowed to have candy at times, and who doesn’t live in a home where the candy jar is padlocked, and chances are you would get an entirely different response given the same opportunity at free will in the candy store. Now fast forward a decade or so and use this same metaphor in relation to your teen.
Giving teenagers some freedom to move about this world, make their own mistakes and experiment a little (even with things we don’t want them to) is an important and healthy milestone to growing up. Of course, offering freedom in order to help them grow, comes with some pretty hard to figure boundaries. If you offer too much freedom to your teen, it can look like you are uncaring, and backfire horribly. Offer not enough, and you are controlling. Finding the middle ground is tough, but very doable.
As always in matters of parenting, it is important to consult with the experts. Just remember that the ‘expert’ in your home when it comes to your child is really you! Most psychologists dealing with teens advise parents to maintain the reins. However, they do believe that parents must use the ‘choice’ system, when it comes to giving teens some freedom. For instance, if your teen wants to stay out an hour past curfew, offer them a choice. Say, you can stay out one hour later tonight, but you will not be able to go out tomorrow night. This way, they have some control over their choices, and you aren’t throwing your boundaries and limitations out the preverbal window.
Additionally, if your teen is asking you to bend or stretch the rules, see it as a cry for more freedom. Then talk to them. Ask them why this is particularly important to them. It is critical for you to NOT take on the role of friend and understanding partner – and to remain open for clues that something may be off kilter with the situation. It is also acceptable to put a price tag on a new freedom, such as an extra chore around the house. This way they begin to see that you are willing to negotiate, but that they won’t be walking all over you and your rules and expectations.
Many parents see the teen years as a lava pit. They are terrified to give new freedoms because they think their teen is going to “fall in” and end up statistic. On drugs, pregnant, or something worse! Remember that these are your fears. At some point, you have to take a realistic look at how you have raised your teen, and have faith that you have instilled the values in your child that you want them to have. The hard lesson for parents of teens is letting go. Just a little!
Remember that with freedom, comes more responsibility on the part of your teenager. This means that you offer freedom as it is deserved, and restrict it should they lose the privilege by not acting responsibly. Decision-making is a critical part of teenage development, and parents who are too controlling and too decisive for their children – never allow their teens to grow up. Then the first year of college, or the first time they get away from home, they act like that three year old on a rampage in the candy store.
Probably the best way to parent your teen, and come to a happy medium in the freedom category is to work based on a sliding trust scale. Allow them to take baby steps. For instance, push the curfew by an hour, or allow them hang out unsupervised at a friend’s house for a short period of time, so that you gain an accurate barometer of what your child can handle. Every teen caves to peer pressure differently. If you work into freedom slowly, not only will you have time to adjust – your teen will likely get a taste of just how much freedom they really want.
Far too many parents of teens forget that often, their teen wants them to say no. Sure, they will fuss, pout, and slam a door or two – but in the end, they realize down deep that they were saved from a situation that may not have been healthy for them. This is just one reason it is so important that parents remain parents, and stop trying to relive their teenage years through their children, or be overly compassionate. Remember, you have the common sense that your teen still lacks and they need to be able to depend on the fact that you will always use your best judgment.
It comes down to this. When you have a teenager, you cannot automatically assume that they will or won’t do certain things. You cannot throw all teens into one group and use blanket discipline or blanketed amounts of freedom in order to keep them safe and responsible. The best way to decide how much freedom your teen needs, is to realize how much they deserve! There is plenty of trouble waiting for your teen in this world. The raw facts are that the only things most people hear about are all the bad, and troubled things teenagers do to get into trouble. There are more wonderful teens out there than belligerent ones. If you feel safe enough to give your child freedom, there is a good chance they will respect you enough to use their freedom wisely.