We’ve defined vines as stems that rely on the support of another plant’s existing, stable base. Vines cannot grow without the support of this anchor upon which they can fasten their roots. We could describe teenagers in the same way. Having parented three teens, so far, it is clear to me that they long to flourish on their own, completely independently, long before they are actually ready to do so. Their quest for autonomy is palpable, and yet they cannot survive without the emotional and financial backing of their home base. Therein lies the conundrum. They desperately need us and our support, but they don’t want to need us. Sprinkle on top of that the complicated layer of parents feeling rejected and not needed any more, and you’ve got the perfect storm.
How to proceed? Michael Riera, author of Staying Connected To Your Teenager reminds us to help our teens develop and utilize their intuition in several ways. Intuition is a wonderful skill to grow in our teens because evidence of it convinces us to step back and grant more autonomy, just as our teens desire. Start by encouraging your teens to pause and ask themselves, “What’s the right thing to do in this difficult situation?” Convincing them to say their answer aloud gets you bonus points, but is unlikely.
Try to illuminate existing experiences in their life where they’ve already used good intuition--highlight for them that this good judgment already exists and they just need to build on it. We want kids to recognize that feeling in themselves, the one that says, “I don’t know, but it just felt right.” Give your teens examples from your own life of times when your gut was spot on, and you’re glad you listened to it. When we applaud them for being tuned in to this smart, inner voice, they might start to notice it even more. Again, when we witness them making smart, calculated decisions, we feel comfortable granting them more independence. We allow the vine to creep along past its foundation.
One other suggestion to encourage the growth of our teen’s independence: suggest that they get a paying job. Making their own money is the greatest expression of autonomy in a teen’s life because they no longer have to ask our permission before they purchase something (as long as they can afford it). What could be better than that? Making their own money puts the world at their fingertips, and gives them a taste of what else they might be able to provide for themselves without their parents’ permission. Every teen loves this freedom. Babysitting, tutoring, dog-walking, lawn-mowing, pizza delivery, filing, waiting tables, scooping ice cream. The list goes on and on, and so does that feeling of flourishing in a healthy direction, away from home base!
Our monthly content is ideated and written by Cristina Young, LCSW, who has more than 25 years of experience providing professional support to children, adolescents, adults, and families.