How to Know When Your Teen is Ready for More Freedom

CB101520A parent’s role is ever-changing. When your children were born, you needed to do everything for them. Ever since then, you’ve probably noticed the push-and-pull of what to do for your child and what to allow them to do for themselves. Now that your child has reached adolescence, it’s important to give them the chance to practice behaving responsibly. If you do too much for your teen, you are robbing them of the skills they need to be independent. Here are some tips on how best to determine your teen’s freedom:

Establish Clear Rules

In the teenage years, the best thing a parent can do is to establish clear rules that encourage responsible behavior, and then, consistently follow through with consequences when those rules get broken. Your teen will be practicing how to act, and you should offer them guidance. However, parents must allow their teens the freedom to make mistakes and live with those consequences. Parents should not spend a lot of energy trying to prevent your teen from breaking your rules. If you have provided guidance and your teen makes a poor choice, they will learn more from their mistakes and the consequences from them.

Attempt Independence in Steps

If you think your teen may be ready for more freedom, or if your teen says they are ready for more freedom, it’s time to run an experiment. Consider the level of freedom your teen currently has as your starting point. Add one new privilege and/or responsibility. They will either prove themselves trustworthy or they won’t. If they demonstrate they can handle the additional independence, then you can add another new privilege and/or responsibility. If they fail, then either return to your teen’s previous level of freedom or allow your teen to keep practicing the new freedom but with a consequence for the mistake. Some ideas of more freedom that parents can allow their teen are:

  • Go someplace unsupervised.
  • Work at a part-time job.
  • Increase their curfew by a half an hour.
  • Ask them to check in with you at a specific time, rather than you calling them.
  • Establish their own time for “lights out” at night.
  • Choose when to do their chores and/or homework.
  • Have more freedom with friends.

When your teen passes these small tests, it will build your trust and increase your teen’s confidence.

Remove Privileges When Necessary

As your teen develops, their behavior will regress and progress accordingly. When their behavior fluctuates, discuss this with your teen and adjust the rules and consequences. If your teen is struggling to make healthy choices, give them less freedom, responsibilities, and privileges, as appropriate. It can be helpful to create a behavior contract with your teen, so that they can know exactly what behavior you expect, what the consequences are for not meeting those expectations, and how they can earn additional privileges.

Develop Decision-Making Skills

One of the most valuable skills you can instill in a teen is the ability to make sound decisions. Parents can do this in three ways:

  • include your teen in family decision-making, which role models how you make decisions and implies that you value their opinion,
  • make decisions that impact your teen with them instead of for them, and
  • teach your teen how to work through the decision-making process when they need to make a decision:
    • brainstorming different options,
    • listing the pros and cons of each different option,
    • weighing the pros and cons to make the best decision, and
    • thinking through what to do if things don’t go according to plan.


Final Thoughts…

Knowing when to let go isn’t easy. It’s truly a balancing act. To become an independent, responsible adult, teens need an increasing amount of freedom. This freedom helps them learn about themselves, the world, responsibility, and consequences. However, if you give your teen too much freedom, they can get into trouble. Each teen is an individual, and it will take some practice for you to figure out what is the right amount of freedom for your teen. Parents should work hard to foster an open and honest relationship with their teen, which will help them to build trust and understand their teen’s specific needs.

One comment

  • Such a great post. In my practice I see the results of teens who are given too little or too much freedom and both are challenging! Open communication and having parents and teens work together can really make all the difference.

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