Control Vs. Freedom: 5 Easy Steps on Navigating this Stressful Time with your Teenager

One of the biggest struggles parents have with teenagers is knowing how much control to exert vs. how much freedom to allow. Adolescence is a tricky time where your child may no longer need the directives provided during childhood but is not quite ready to be completely independent with unlimited freedom. This confusing time often lends itself to a time of fear and anxiety for many parents. Parents often want the best for their children and keeping them safe is a priority. However, adolescents often push for the complete opposite by wanting to push limits of safety and reason. Thus, lots and lots of friction occurs.

Developmentally, what teens do during this time is very appropriate. They are learning about the world, independence and the freedom to make their own choices. And this learning process takes a great deal of experimenting and life experiences. As some of you may remember, this stage is similar to the “terrible two’s” It’s the same type of concepts of striving for independence but on a much bigger scale. So what do you do? Parents want to pull in the reigns and teenagers want to run free. These tips may help navigate this stressful time better:

  1. Trust your gut

    The single most important thing for parents to remember is to trust your instincts/intuition/gut. If something doesn’t feel right, you have an awful feeling in the pit of your stomach, or the hairs on the back of your neck stand straight up, then listen! Yes, teenagers absolutely have to experience things on their own, but they will not always be aware when they are in a truly bad situation. This is the time to pull in the reigns as a parent and trust that gut of yours. Obviously these types of situations should be rare occurrences (if they are not, then something more serious is occurring in which professional help may be necessary) so putting the brakes on should indicate something very serious with your teen. Allow your teen space to feel angry and upset with you, understand and validate how they may be feeling, but stick to your guns.

  2. Be clear

    Be clear with your expectations with teen and make sure they are reasonable expectations. Your teen should not have any questions or be unclear in what you expect of them across various situations. Then with those expectations, allow for freedoms little by little and build on it. Present them with various opportunities to gain more freedom and keep building trust together as their age and maturity levels rise.

  3. Expect “mess-ups”

    No matter how trusting you are or how much you work in achieving the perfect balance of freedom with your teen, they will mess up. This is what they do. They have to test you, test the world, test life. This is a vital part of learning and maturing for them. Sometimes the testing will be small and sometimes it will be big. If there are safety issues involved, act accordingly, but know that this is all a part of the process for them. They are not doing this to hurt you. Do not take it personally. The more you expect and allow for some “mess-ups”, the more clearly and calmly you will deal with them. This allows your teen to feel more safe with you and honest about mistakes made.

  4. Deal with your teen honestly and with respect

    The more honest and respectful you are with your teen, the more likely they will trust you and return the favor. When your teen makes a mistake, honestly and respectfully let them know how that impacted you. You may say something like “I feel scared when you are not honest about your whereabouts. I want to know you are safe and with people you trust. I imagine it may be hard for you to tell me every little change in your plans and you might be embarrassed to have a mom who wants to know this information. If you could send me a quick text in the future, then I think I would feel more reassured.”.

    Once you have let them know how you feel respectfully and honestly, they will in turn be more honest and respectful with you. Every time your teen reveals a bit of information, they are testing you to see if you are a safe person to discuss the challenges they face. Remember how important this is! You may be upset by something they do or say but again if you treat them with respect and honesty, they will continue to feel safe bringing up other issues with you in the future.

  5. Overprotection is a disservice

    Sometimes parents feel that it is their job to protect their children at all costs. Maybe you believe the world is a dangerous place and you will never allow anything to hurt your little boy or girl. Yes, protection is a very important part of being a parent. Yet, your teenager is no longer a little boy or girl. Your child is stepping out into the world and this is the time to help them make their own choices, within reason and under your supervision. To take away this unique time in their life means that one day they will step out into the world without your supervision and they will be blindsided. It is inevitable that your teen will someday leave for college, move away, and start their own life. Provide the tools and experience they need to be able to handle life successfully on their own.

Navigating this balance with your teen is something that takes some practice and trial and error. Some days you will see the positive outcomes and other days you will feel rejected by your efforts. Remember your ultimate goal of having a positive and healthy relationship with your teen and you can overcome the day-to-day challenges. Following these steps will also help your adolescent transition to a healthier and more balanced adulthood.