It’s never easy for a parent to deal with a teenager once she’s ready to take on the world. It’s difficult because you want to encourage her independence, but at the same time, you want to make sure she’s protected and ready for such a large responsibility. As an adult who has experienced what the world can toss your way, it’s understandable that you would have a concern of whether or not she’s truly ready to handle life’s challenges with maturity.
The desire for independence is a healthy and natural phase for any teenager. Her eagerness to break free and make her own decisions comes as a direct result of being forced to follow the rules of someone else, namely her parents. To prepare her, and yourself, for that inevitable day when you have to cut the strings, talk to your teen about what it really means to be independent and the responsibility that comes along with it. Make sure you set boundaries and discuss those boundaries so that your expectations are clear.
As a teen, you probably attempted to rebel against rules set by your parents, or other authority figures. Trust that, like you, in time your teen will learn rules are a part of life and that true independence is learning how to handle the responsibilities which come with being independent.
BUT: How Can She Be Ready for The World? She Can’t Follow the Rules at Home!
Oh Boy! I hear this one a lot. Parents constantly complain that their teen is always screaming about independence, yet failing to show that they can be responsible enough to handle it. During my years of working with teen girls, I’ve met young ladies who are pros at following the same old tricks of the teen trade;
- Sneaking out of the house
- Changing into different clothing at school
- Failing to meet curfew
- Ditching classes and having their friends write parental excuses
- Lying to their parents about where they are going
Don’t get me wrong, not all teen girls sit around and dream up different ways to manipulate their parents. As a matter of fact, a majority of the girls I work with are very mature young ladies who are angry at their parents for believing they are irresponsible simply because they are teenagers. Now let me address those girls who DO try to manipulate their parents.
Many teen girls confuse “control” with “independence”. They tell me that they are tired of their parents telling them what to do, where to go, what to wear, who to hang with and so on. They don’t understand that with independence comes responsibility (coupled with a certain level of maturity) and instead, they want you to take care of them while they live pleasurably without rules. We know this is not reality. If we lived in a world where we could have our way without laws to abide by, this would be a very scary and unstructured placed to live. The question is how can you impart this wisdom to your daughters without pushing them away from you? Well, to help young girls understand the position parents are in, I created a role-play phase in my workshop called Teen Town.
Teen Town is a make-believe world where the girls actually get a taste of independence and control by governing their own city. During the exercise, I separate the girls into two groups. One group is placed in a position of authority, (call them the Leaders), where they make the rules that the other group must follow to maintain a civilized society. The Leaders own the business, property, schools, and stores while the other group serves as the workforce, (we’ll call them Laborers). Do the two groups work well together, you ask? Let’s just say that it never fails… a riot always erupts in Teen Town!
The Laborers always rebel against the Leaders who own most of the property, and the Leaders always attempt to find ways to punish and control the Laborers who rebel. No one wins, but I have to admit, it’s funny to watch! Both groups are responsible for creating a livable and orderly Teen Town. In the end, the girls learn the enormous amount of responsibility that is attached to being independent. When she’s on her own, she’s responsible for her own actions and the consequences of such actions (like losing her home if she does not pay her mortgage to the Leader’s bank). The teen participants always get the message by the end of the game.
So, What Do You Do?
Let your teen know that if she wants her independence, she will have to prove to you that she can handle it. If she’s old enough, a great place to start is to establish the rules of the house together. I recommend that you put these rules in writing, creating a contract that you both sign to further solidify the commitment to adhere to the new rules you both created. Agree on penalties for breaking the rules in advance and be sure to include them in your contract. Inform her that you expect her to follow the new house rules and that if she fails to abide by those rules, then she will suffer the pre-determined consequences as outlined in the contract.
Working with her to create a mutual agreement will show her that you are not only attempting to be fair and reasonable but that you also trust her and respect her input. By showing her that you trust her enough to allow her to participate in the process of setting the house rules and resulting disciplinary action for breaking the rules, she will be encouraged to prove to both you and herself that she can be responsible. Lastly, working together to create rules and penalties will eliminate the line of control that divides you and your daughter.
A contract between you and your daughter offers a meaningful opportunity for her to learn that in the real world, everyone has to face the consequences of breaking rules (For example, if you speed while driving, you’ll get a ticket, and so on). She’ll learn that true independence revolves around her ability to follow rules and honor her commitments. It’s a hard lesson to learn at times, but one that we all much learn at some point in our lives.