Early adolescence is a turbulent time of enormous physical, emotional, cognitive, and social changes and growth. Adolescence is a time to practice self-governance by feeling, behaving, and thinking independently. This is the groundwork for becoming a confident, independent adult who is not unduly influenced by other people or forces. This can be a challenging time for parents too. Parents are constantly recalibrating their own role in relation to their child’s needs. As your tween’s developmental needs begin to shift to teen independence and autonomy, so too must your parenting approach.
1. Emotional Teen Independence
Emotional independence is the ability to resolve an emotionally charged problem independently. Young children often need help soothing emotions before they can think of a solution to a problem. During the tween years, there is a shift in responding to emotional problems. Tweens will begin to see their parents as real people, who have strengths and flaws. Tweens may look to their peers for emotional support before their parents. This can be challenging for parents, who may feel rejected by their child or ‘cut out’ of their life. They might tell a friend about their new crush, but not you! It is normal for a tween to keep secrets from parents. Parents who are overly inquisitive risk alienating their tween. If you try to break down your tween’s emotional boundary, they will work even harder to build it back up.
What to do to allow for teen independence:
- Allow for a loss in connection. Parenting a tween means being a consistent supportive presence while allowing them space to grow, make mistakes, and learn from them. Your relationship with your child is in a stage of transition. While it may feel like distance, try to remember that allowing your tween to set boundaries will lay the groundwork for adult independence and, in time, more trust and intimacy with you.
- Be supportive of their friendships, even if they have friends you don’t like. Because tweens identify so strongly with their peers, they may experience your criticism of a friend as a personal criticism. These peers are supporting your child’s emotional autonomy in ways you may not realize. Your tween is learning how to have intimate peer relationships. They may argue with a friend, but this is also how your tween is learning conflict resolution and emotional resiliency.
- Try to remember, it’s not about you. They are not creating distance because they love you any less. Your tween is learning how to develop and maintain intimate relationships and set emotional boundaries. You can support this growth and enhance connection, by respecting those boundaries.
2. Behavioral Teen Independence
Behavioral independence is the ability to consider options, make a decision, and follow through with action without turning to others for guidance. Tweens are rapidly developing the ability to think abstractly, anticipate future consequences, and compare how different choices may change an outcome. Tweens are realizing that different situations call for different solutions. It will take time and practice to feel confident in decision-making skills. This can be challenging for parents because tweens may have different priorities than you. By extension, their choices will reflect their priorities and not the parents’. Their Tik Tok might feel SO much more important than nightly chores!
What to do to allow for teen independence:
- Guide – don’t MAKE your tween’s decisions. It’s time to stop making decisions FOR your child, and start making decisions WITH your child. Encourage problem-solving skills by asking them about different options, pros and cons, brainstorm together, and encourage them to use their good judgment.
- Negotiate rules. Clear and consistent expectations are great, but the rules need to be appropriate for their age. Explain why you’re setting rules, especially those established for safety. Ask them for their input and be open to compromise. Engage them in identifying what a reasonable consequence should be for breaking a rule and be consistent. Negotiating rules teaches your child the value of compromise, how to resolve conflicts, and makes it likelier they will adhere to the rules.
3. Independent Values
Teen independence values mean being able to make decisions based on a personal value system. A value system can include spiritual, moral, and political beliefs. Your tween will begin to reach independent conclusions about their values. They will stop simply accepting the values that they were raised with or following those of their peers. This can be challenging for parents, who have spent years trying to teach their children their own good values.
A Teen Therapist’s Suggestions on Fostering Your Teen’s Independence
- Try to see it from their perspective. Remember that your values are not the only values that carry validity. Your child may not want to go to religious services anymore or express interest in a different religion. Or they may identify with a political party that you don’t. Encourage discussion about values. Listen and try to understand their perspective. Be supportive of their value system, even if it is different from yours. This lays the groundwork for an adult who feels confident in making choices consistent with their values.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. Tweens will experiment with autonomy in many ways. This may include hobbies, tv-shows, music, and activities. It may include playing with their appearance through fashion and hair color. It can include experimenting with language and using new slang or even curse words. They may switch up dietary habits and decide they’re vegetarian! These are all-natural and safe ways of exploring values, the self, and identity during the tween years. Take the little things in stride and focus on the elements of independence that matter most.
Remember, the primary work of the tween and teen years is to lay the building blocks to become an independent functioning adult. It can be so scary and hard for a parent to let go, but doing so mindfully is an effective way to support growth and development.
Begin Counseling for Teens in Scotch Plains, NJ
Navigating a new approach to parenting can be difficult as your teen grows. Our team of caring therapists would be honored to support you and your family to foster healthy development. We offer support from our Scotch Plains, NJ-based practice. To start your therapy journey, follow these simple steps:
- Contact Brave Minds Psychological Services
- Meet with a caring therapist
- Start connecting with your teen
Other Services Offered at Brave Minds Psychological Services
Counseling for teens isn’t the only service we offer from our Scotch Plains, NJ-based therapy practice. Other services offered include online therapy, trauma therapy, anxiety treatment for children, child sexual abuse therapy, anxiety treatment for teens, teen social phobia therapy, adult anxiety counseling, couples counseling, counseling for parents, postpartum counseling, birth trauma therapy, sexual assault counseling for adults, and food allergy therapy.