Increasing Autonomy Ages 13+

September 24, 2020
by: Chad Welch, Community Impact Coordinator – Education

Encouraging your young person to develop autonomy, while feeling secure doing so, and at a pace that everyone feels comfortable with, is most definitely a balancing act. They might think they’re ready to stay out later with friends; you might disagree. You might be asking them to take on more personal responsibility for decisions; they might resist.

The trick is to stay involved and show your interest without appearing to be too controlling and intrusive.

Navigating Changes

Becoming autonomous and independent is a critical stage of a teen’s development. Young people often begin to challenge more of the decisions made by others, yes, this includes parents and teachers. They also begin to explore their own thoughts, beliefs and desires.

Testing boundaries, taking risks and being impulsive can be part of a young person’s quest for new experiences. They learn to reflect on their mistakes and consider other options. They may also become more aware of what or who influences their thinking. They begin to work independently, through more complex problems, and move from focusing inward on themselves to being more thoughtful and aware of others and their situations.

Part of this development may include reflecting on family, cultural and community values. Young people’s friendships and other relationships are also changing, and the beginning and ending of their first relationship in particular can be a learning and emotional experience.

As they navigate these developmental changes, young people will experience a range of emotions. As caring adults in their lives, our job is to help them navigate those wide ranging emotions. Feelings such as moodiness, irritability, frustration, but also happiness, pride and satisfaction. These are normal responses to new challenges. It can be an exciting time, but one that can be “in your face,” and at times disappointing.

Establish Limits With Room To Grow

It’s important to be clear about what behaviour is okay and not okay in your family. Teenagers, like adults, aren’t at their best when they feel they’re not being listened to, or that they’re still being treated like a child. Try involving your teenager in establishing the rules of the house, and in determining the consequences if those rules are broken.  

Set the limits strictly enough so your young person stays safe, but widely enough to give them room to grow. It’s hard, but accept that they will make mistakes along the way. After all, failure is often our best teacher.

Be Involved In Your Young Person’s Life…

Paying attention to your teenager and being involved in their life can help you spot any changes in their behaviour, as well as helping them to feel supported and respected.

Here are some ideas:

  • Pick some fun activities that you both enjoy and give you a chance to spend some one-on-one time together.
  • Develop a habit of doing something special with each child once a month away from the rest of the family.
  • Try and eat dinner together as a family (without being glued to the TV or phones).
  • Get to know who their friends are and what they’re up to.
  • Check in with them on school work – ask if they need extra help with anything and keep providing encouragement.
  • Take an active interest in what your teenager is doing at school and in their extra-curricular activities and hobbies. 
  • Even though it might look like their focus is now on their friends and not in family Monopoly night, don’t underestimate how important feeling part of the family continues to be for your teenager.

…But Avoid Over-Involvement

It’s important to balance being involved with giving your young person the privacy and space to figure things out on their own.

Give them a chance to make mistakes and try to avoid taking over. If you’re unsure if you’re stepping in too often or too early in a situation, ask yourself “Did I really need to get involved?” and, “What would have been the worst thing to happen if I didn’t step in?”

Gradually increase your teenager’s responsibilities and independence over time to allow them to mature. Encourage your teen to try a variety of activities and interests to help them find out what they’re interested in and what they’re good at. This will help to build their self-confidence.