Building Strong Adolescents: Fostering independence
Teens exploring their identity is usually a healthy sign of exploring their own identity.
According to Michigan State University Extension Building Strong Adolescent’s curriculum, as adolescents grow, they gradually gain new abilities that greatly enlarge their world. Adolescents are able to think ahead, consider alternatives, predict consequences, dream about the future, detect subtleties of right and wrong and commit themselves to certain values and ideals. As adolescents skills grow and they feel less need to depend on their parents to make their choices, they tend to challenge parental authority ‐ usually a healthy sign that they are exploring their world and working to build their own identity.
Parents must gradually begin the process of “letting go” of their teen to allow them to develop capabilities to successfully handle their enlarged world. Some degree of trust must be given in order for that trust to be proven. Parents who give their teens appropriate autonomy give them a number of advantages: The excitement of making their own choices, pride earned from making good choices, opportunities to accept and learn from mistakes, opportunities to make their own plans and decisions and opportunities to learn how to struggle with complex decisions.
However, teens never lose their need for parental guidance. As teens gain more free choice and independence, parents need to take time to teach teens how to make responsible decisions. Experts suggest that as children reach their teen year’s parents adopt a “consultant” role. Consulting parents remain interested in their teen’s life, set up positive expectations, set a good example, are available for advice, provide information, teach decision‐making skills and stress values to help teens gain independence. Consulting parents give teens new responsibilities that require them to envision the future, plan ahead, consider alternatives, make choices, think about the needs of others and take action to positively influence the world. In other words, consulting parents encourage teens to make most of their own decisions while simultaneously facilitating important decision‐making skills.