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Freedom & Responsibility: How Much Freedom Should I Give My Teenager?

At Sundance Canyon Academy, we talk to a lot of parents who struggle with giving their teenager more freedom and worrying about their teen’s behavior. We recognize that it’s difficult to know how much freedom your teenager can handle. Today’s article is part of a series designed to help parents understand the link between freedom and responsibility for teenagers. If your teen son struggles to regulate his behavior and can’t handle the freedom to make his own choices, contact us for more information about our residential treatment center for teens.

As your child transitions into their teenage years, you can expect them to want more freedom. Teens get annoyed if they feel like they’re being treated like a little kid. They want to branch out on their own, have their own hobbies, hang out with their friends, and generally be able to do more things without adult supervision.

In an ideal world, you would slowly give your teen more freedom as they prove that they can handle it. They would manage their freedom well and never even consider breaking your trust. You would never have to worry about where they are or what they’re doing, and they would be content with all of your rules.

Unfortunately, life is rarely ideal. Your teen will make mistakes. They’ll slip up and stretch your rules too far. In all likelihood, they’re going to want more freedom than you’re willing to give them. Teens often feel like they should be treated like adults, even though they can’t handle the responsibility of adulthood yet. The teen years are a weird mix of wanting more freedom and learning how to manage it.

How much freedom should I give my teenager?

Since life is messy, there’s no clear answer to how much freedom you should give your teenager. Freedom should be dished out on a case-by-case basis. You need to give your teen enough room to make mistakes and learn from them, but you also don’t want them to make catastrophic mistakes.

You might be tempted to keep hovering over them like you did when they were little, but that won’t benefit them either. The teenage years should be a testing ground for adulthood. During adolescence, teens learn valuable lessons about self-regulation that will benefit them as they become adults. Without the opportunity to make their own choices, they won’t become self-sufficient adults.

Too much freedom = teens can get into big trouble

Not enough freedom = teens don’t learn how to make decisions on their own

As your teen gets older and their maturity level increases, you should be able to give them more freedom. However, you can expect that it will be a give-and-take situation. Sometimes they will show that they are trustworthy and will earn more freedom. Sometimes they will make mistakes and have that freedom removed. Handling the balance of freedom and responsibility is challenging for both parents and kids.

Tips for giving freedom and taking it back

  1. Give age-appropriate freedom. You wouldn’t let a 12-year-old take the car for a drive. However, if your 17-year-old is a responsible driver and has their license, it would be appropriate to give them that freedom. Your kid might not like having to wait until they’re older to get certain privileges, but they will have to wait sometimes.

  2. Set clear limits to their freedom. As the parent, you get to set the limits to your kid’s level of freedom. Make sure that they clearly understand the limitations. These limits can include things like setting a curfew, limiting which friends they can hang out with, limiting which activities they can do on their own, and more.

  3. Implement consequences for breaking the limits. Make sure your teenager knows what their consequences will be if they violate the limits of their freedom. Will they be grounded? Will they have to do additional chores? Let your kid know what they can expect if they choose not to follow the rules.

  4. Give them small boosts of freedom. Rather than dumping a lot of new freedom on them at once, give your teen small boosts of freedom. When kids are allowed to do too much all at once, they don’t know how to handle it. They have to learn how to live within their guidelines and regulate themselves.

  5. Link their freedom to their responsibilities. As an adult, our freedoms are directly related to our responsibilities. You’re free to watch whatever you want on TV, so long as you pay the bill. If you don’t pay that bill, though, your TV service goes away. Make sure that your teen understands that their freedoms are linked to their responsibilities. As long as they’re making responsible choices, they will keep their freedoms.

What if my teenager can’t handle any freedom?

Some teenagers seem to be incapable of regulating themselves and following through with their responsibilities. Others clearly understand what’s expected of them, but they refuse to do it. In both of these situations, it isn’t easy to give your child any freedom at all. If you don’t trust them to make positive decisions without adult supervision, they won’t get to branch out on their own.

If your teenager can’t handle any freedom, they need more structure to help them learn to set and manage their responsibilities. They may also benefit from attending therapy sessions to learn to regulate their emotions and their actions. Teens who struggle with mental health problems often need additional support to learn how to handle their responsibilities.

As this “Freedom and Responsibility” series continues, we will include tips to help teens accept more responsibility. If you need help for your troubled teen in the meantime, contact us for more information about our program.

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