parenting teens

Trust versus Freedom: Finding balance with your teenager

This is a guest post from Annie Wylie from ReachOut Australia 

Finding the balance between trust and freedom with your teenager is a nerve-racking tightrope act every parent must master. Lean too heavily on fear and authority, and they’re likely to rebel to gain some control. Give them too much freedom and they can feel unsupported and like you don’t care. We get how hard it is to get the boundaries right!

7 tips for setting boundaries

Setting clear boundaries for your teenager

Make sure they know what’s okay, and what’s not okay for now, so that you feel comfortable that they know what your expectations are. It’ll also give them freedom, security and the trust they need to start learning to be responsible for their own behaviour. Here are some tips, and real-life experiences of other parents to help you:

Boundaries and curfews should grow with your teenager

Your teenager wants to grow and start experiencing life beyond the family. You can help them do this by setting boundaries that don’t stifle them.

Boundaries about when they need to be home, where they can go, and what you’re happy for them to do, can expand as they get older and show that they can handle responsible situations with maturity. And if they don’t respect the boundaries there’ll be consequences that you’ve agreed in advance.

Be clear about your expectations

Boundaries should be based on reasons you make clear to them. An example shared on our forums shows how this works. When their teenage son failed to call home at the agreed time, the parent tried to call but couldn’t get through. The teen’s phone battery was flat. Later, the parent explained to their teen that not hearing from them made them very worried for their safety. This was a revelation to the teen, who didn’t want to stress their parent out, and readily agreed to always call in (and the parents got them a portable charger!).

Let them decide their own hobbies

Hobbies are a great way for your teenager to create their own independent space to grow. Let them decide where, how and what they do. This may involve a level of risk – mountain biking, contact sports, outdoor adventure – but learning how to take risks safely is healthy.

Let them decide their own look

Your look is essential to finding out and expressing who you are. Their taste might test you, but we all have cringe-inducing photos from when we were teens! This is the time for individuality to be explored. Yes, the school will have rules, so you may need to discuss what’s appropriate to wear there.

Give them areas where they’re completely in control

What are you confident they’re ready to take on? Give them control of that, and make it clear you’ll accept their decision, even if you don’t agree with it.

This could be taking public transport to school, getting a part-time job, or even being in control of their bedroom. It can be their private, personal space – how they keep it is up to them. They’ll soon learn that not doing the laundry means no clean clothes.

Include your child in big decisions that affect their lives

This includes things like school subjects, further study, staying out late, and using devices. If they help make these decisions they are more likely to honour them, and it will give them a sense of control over their lives.

Give them opportunities to develop experience

Over time give your teen room to demonstrate they can be trusted, and reward them with increased freedom. Knowing they can look after themselves is a great reward for you both.

One mum we spoke to have an eye-opener the first time she let her daughter go to the cinema with mates. When the mates got chucked out for misbehaving they went to a mall that she’d told her daughter not to visit. Instead of following them, her daughter called her mum from the cinema, upset, asking her to pick her up. Instead of being angry about the cinema, her mum told her how pleased she was with her responsible behaviour. Both ended up feeling good about what was initially an upsetting episode.

3 tips for letting go

Teenagers with too much freedom can be as much at risk as those who haven’t had enough.  Like we said, there’s a balance to strike. Here are some tips to help you feel safe letting go:

Give them safe outlets for thrill seeking

If they’re looking for thrills, support them to take on activities that challenge them, but that also involve experienced instructors. For example, sports, outdoor activities or performing on stage.

Let life be the teacher

In the end, you can’t protect your teen from failing or getting hurt. Taking risks is how we learn to make the right decisions. Supporting your teen to take risks will empower them to become the adult you want them to be. Celebrate their successes and learn how to help them move on from failure.

Let them know they can always rely on your support

You won’t always like the choices your teen makes. Let them know that you may not always agree with them, but that you will always support them.

And for you the parent?

You don’t have to go it alone either. Talk to other parents about your experiences. ReachOut Parents forums is a great place to start.

Author Bio:
Annie Wylie is the Content Manager at ReachOut Parents. She has 5+ years of experience across the media and not-for-profit sectors, using her passion and expertise for achieving better outcomes for vulnerable communities to produce stories, resources and events that matter.

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