Fostering Independence in Older Teens

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How do you help your almost-adult teenager learn to stand on his own two feet and be responsible for his actions and responsibilities without feeling somewhat guilty?


Let’s presume that what we all want for our kids when they become adults is happiness, success, confidence, love, and competence. Ideally, I think we want to see all those qualities in balance, yes?


If we step in too often to rescue, we may insure success, but at the price of confidence and competence.


So try this on for size: when he asks for help in an area that you would like to foster more independence, start by offering just a little bit of help. Then move up the help scale incrementally.


Here’s an example: let’s say he has a part time job, and doesn’t have enough money to pay his car insurance this month.


You could just give him the money, and you may get to that incrementally. But start with offering your attention, your empathy, and your ear. Don’t jump in with a solution too fast. Let him talk it through, and see if he can reach a solution himself.


Here’s how this might sound:


Mom, I can’t pay my car insurance this month.
Oh, having a tough time financially, honey?
Yeah, I don’t get paid until next week and it’s due Friday. Will you give me the money?
Well, I’d be happy to help you explore some options.


This sends the message that you love him and are there for him, but doesn’t put you in the position of bailing him out every time.


If the conversation ends with no resolution, then say, “Well, son, let’s both think on this a bit and see what we can come up with. Let’s talk at dinner tomorrow.”


Loans are legitimate, real-world-relevant parental assistance. You may charge interest or not, whichever feels appropriate to you. Be sure to write up an agreement that includes a repayment structure and is signed by both parties. Consider asking for collateral (which you can sell to repay the loan if he defaults).


The bottom line: As your teen gets older, your response time should be getting slower, and the type of assistance you offer becomes less about solving and rescuing and more about helping them help themselves.

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