As children mature into adolescents, parents and caregivers must also adapt, shift, and grow into a new role: life skills and independence coach. There are few young adults who reach adulthood without an adult intentionally guiding, teaching, and mentoring them, ensuring they have the life skills necessary to become successful adults. When practiced, teen independence builds confidence, creates self-assurance, and helps teens grow into self-sufficient and independent adults.
Adult independence is best defined and understood by looking at the four major kinds of independence that contribute to self-sufficiency. As with all people, teenagers mature at differing rates, creating a broad spectrum of readiness and ability to begin practicing independence. As a parent, caregiver, or mentor of an adolescent learning independence, help them by building on the skills they already possess, while slowly introducing them to newer and more advanced skills. By meeting your teen where they are at, you set them up for early success that builds confidence, which further promotes self-awareness and self-sufficiency.
4 Types of Independence
- House chores
- Managing time to complete tasks; scheduling tasks
- Study skills
- Short/long term goal setting
- Appropriate social skills
- Building healthy relationships
- Confidence with and around different people/situations
- Creating healthy boundaries in relationships
- Self-care, including hygiene and mental/physical health
- Protecting self in public
- Ability to cope with emotions (boredom, loneliness, anger, frustration, love, grief)
- Building resourcefulness
In addition to these differing types of independence, teens and young adults need to learn the following life skills that help them become contributing citizens:
Accountability: The awareness to connect choices to their likely consequences, and the ability to cope with and recover from errors in judgment. Also includes the ability to learn from mistakes and successes, so mistakes aren’t repeated, while successes are built upon.
Responsibility: The ability to take care of responsibilities at work, school, and home, often with little to now prompting. The awareness of what needs to be done, and the confidence to take on tasks as needed.
Decision Making: The ability to identify and solve problems using rational thinking, listening, and developing an ability to prioritize and balance wants and needs.
Work Ethic: An appreciation and understanding of the need to invest time and labor into gaining something desired. The willingness and ability to work long and short term for things wanted and needed.
One of the most effective ways of helping a teen learn independence is placing a mentor in their lives. These mentors help them wade through impulsive, emotional decisions, provide guidance and leadership, and surround them with adults they can trust and model positive behaviors after. If you are a parent struggling with teaching your teen independence, consider helping your teen find a mentor. If you have been placed in a mentoring role with a teen, consider it a great opportunity to empower and invest in the next generation.
12 Ways to Support Teen Independence
- Provide autonomy. Give your teen a chance to make decision on their own, within boundaries. Be present to help them recover from mistakes, yet allow them to experience the consequences of their actions.
- Model healthy adulthood. Allow your teen to see you make positive decisions, as well as practice responsibility and accountability. This includes modeling self-care, healthy living habits, healthy relationships, strong work ethic, and trusting behavior patterns.
- Talk with mutual respect. Show your teen respect in the way you talk with them. Make sure that you practice listening to their ideas, validating their decisions, and allowing them to express their opinions without judgement or ridicule.
- Be a curator, not an overseer. Remember, do not engage in a power struggle with your teen. Set strict boundaries, and yet be willing to give up power on things that doesn’t compromise your teen’s safety, as well as your joint morals.
- Teach your teen how to be a good friend. A big part of being a great citizen and establishing healthy relationships is understanding how to be a caring friend. Make sure to teach your teen how to care for relationships with others.
- Talk money young, and often. Make sure to teach your teen financial literacy and how to make wise money decisions. Get them in the habit of managing small amounts of money, so they can grow into a financially literate adult.
- Teach emergency preparedness. Make sure your teen knows how to react and who to contact in the face of an emergency. Stress the importance of a level head, reacting without panic, and basic emergency skills like how to deal with minor injuries, small grease fires, natural disasters, and minor car accidents. Make sure they always know who to call for help.
- Teach your teen how to be emotionally levelheaded. Part of surviving in the world is learning how to react emotionally in a varied number of situations. Make sure your teen knows how to regulate their emotions, particularly anger, grief, anxiety, sadness, and loneliness. Make sure to teach your teen about healthy mental health, and how to seek help early.
- Teach trust and boundaries. To help set your teen up for a life of healthy relationships, teach them how to build trust in others, as well as how to set, enforce, and observe their’s as well as other’s boundaries.
- Support location/transportation Intelligence. Make sure your teen knows how to travel alone, whether through a city, a state, or abroad. This includes teaching them how to read maps, understand directions, knowing local landmarks, and understanding how local transit operates.
- Show interest. Express genuine interest in things or people your teen are interested in. This includes getting to know their friends, understanding their hobbies, being familiar with “pop” culture or the culture they are invested in, and showing genuine support in their life.
- Give them space and privacy. Allow your teen to experience space and privacy to develop a sense of self. Make sure to include them in family and group outings, but always give them the freedom to be alone as needed.
Finally, the greatest way to help a teen grow into a self-sufficient and successful adult is to give them ample love and encouragement from an adult they an trust. Always look for ways to be a loving and caring adult to the teens in your sphere of influence. It only takes one adult to alter the life of a youth forever.