Raising an Independent Teenager
No matter how we feel about it, the role of a parent is to teach, coach and train a child to eventually become an adult. We teach our children what is acceptable behavior from the first time we stop them from throwing food from their high chair to the time we put limits on where and when they can drive.
By the time your child has become a teenager, he has learned a lot about how the world works, and most of it he has learned from you. Schools, friends and society have taught him, too, but the basic rules come from you and will guide his life, whether he admits it or not.
Teaching independence is very difficult to do if you face it head on. It's one of those things that seem to be gained by absorbing what one sees or feels, so we must be mindful of how we think and act and how we treat our children from the very beginning.
First, we must respect them. Respect and independence may not seem to be related, but they are. When a teen is respected, he has the freedom to do things on his own without fear of being "talked down" or criticized unnecessarily. Never make fun of your child or treat him as anything less than the wonderful, individual human being that he is. Discipline has to happen, but it can be done with a grace that leaves your child his dignity.
Secondly, we must model independence ourselves. We must take the initiative to do things that are important to us and we must be courageous to speak up when we need to. Independence precludes laziness. We must show our kids that it's much better to do what we can for ourselves than expect someone else to do it for us.
Self confidence is another piece of the independence model and is necessary for success in any role. We have the ability to encourage self confidence by requiring that our teenagers meet certain standards and be a part of the team that helps run our households. Children who learn responsibility doing chores feel more self confident than those who don't do chores at home.
We have to have enough trust in our teens to allow them to make decisions, whether we agree with them or not. That doesn't mean that we allow them to do dangerous things, but that we expect them to decide what kind of car they want, how much outside work they can do and still keep their grades up. We can guide and we can bring up the subject if we see that their decisions are not working, but as long as there is no real danger, allowing the teenager to make mistakes and suffer the consequences will make a more independent adult.