Updated on October 4, 2021
The teenage years are hard. Your kid is getting older and seeking independence. With that shift, there is often a lot of testing the waters. Without a doubt, your teen is going to make a lot of bad decisions. How much freedom should you let your teen have? When should you seek out programs for troubled teens and when is the rebellion part of a normal teenage response?
The answer isn’t an easy one. Letting your teen make their own decisions is tough, but it is best for them in the long run. Of course, those choices have to be within reason. You may have to put your foot down when it comes to something dangerous, illegal or damaging to their future. But, it isn’t always easy to let go of the unnecessary things.
Why Does My Teen Want Control?
Ugh, my teen tries to control everything, what should I do? How much freedom should I give?
We hear this a lot from frustrated parents who want what is best. You may see your child choosing events with friends over studying. Perhaps your teen wants to skip family time or avoid watching siblings for an upcoming event that means nothing to you. Whenever you ask for something to be done, it may feel like a fight.
Why are teens so difficult? Teens need control because they are practicing.
You can force your teen to attend certain events or even act certain ways, but you can’t force them to enjoy it or benefit fully. You are dealing with another human who is approaching adulthood and trying to take flight from the nest. These little test flights help them build the strength and confidence they need to go further and be successful as adults.
Controlling parents often breed rebellion. A micromanaging parent may force a certain response, but the teen is likely to break the rules as soon as they get a chance. And, while not all teens will lie or hide what they are doing, teens that aren’t given freedom suffer and resist good parent advice because they still want that control.
On the flip side, the motivated and self-disciplined kids are often the ones who have control over their lives. They feel as if they are responsible for the show, so they aren’t doing anything to try to regain the power.
They are less likely to get hooked on drugs or get into real trouble. They learn from their mistakes and are more likely to have lowered stress, improved well-being and a strong sense of intrinsic motivation. This often plays out into a successful career.
How Much Freedom Should a Teenager Have?
The amount of freedom teenagers need is connected to the choices they need to take. Many experts agree that the decision-making should be done by the teens.
Letting our teens make decisions about their lives doesn’t mean we should indulge every whim, disengage from their world, or shift to a permissive state. To the contrary, authoritative parenting has been linked to healthier teens that transition well into adults. Your approach should be consistent, enforcing clearly defined limits and remaining interested in your child’s life.
Basically, you’ve been laid off as manager and given a position of part-time advisor or a coach. You will still set and enforce certain rules, but they will control much of the decision-making that impacts their lives.
For example, they have to graduate high school, but their career path is up to them. They have a time limit on device use, but they are allowed to make profiles (you can check in on). A lot of this process will feel like give-and-take. But, this is important because you can so easily slip into only the taking part.
Allowing your teen to make the tough decisions (like should I go to my brother’s game or the movie with my friends) is going to help them look deep within and examine motivation. They get to practice examining their conflicting feelings and comparing that to the feelings of others. They won’t always get it right. Don’t expect them to and don’t overly drum in the lesson when they fall short of your expectations.
My Teen is Making Mistakes!
You simply don’t know what you don’t know. And you may find your teen is a very different person from who you want them to be. As hard as it can be, you simply cannot force someone to pursue something they don’t want for themselves. So take that deep breath and tell them the decision is up to them.
Here’s how you can try to handle the situation when you feel like your teen is making mistakes.
- You can neutrally offer your opinion first, but avoid manipulative or heavy-handed remarks. They need to find their own voice and place in this world.
- Explain the issue, your current rules about it and then the reasoning behind your feelings—keeping your teens in the loop and part of that decision process.
- Tell your teen how you feel and explain why you don’t believe the choice will go well for them.
- Don’t over exaggerate or use hyperbole (“you never want to spend time with us!” Or “why are you always doing the opposite of what I say?”)
- Don’t call names or slot your teen into a behavior (“you are so lazy!” or “you have always been a difficult child!”)
When they want to go to the movie or concert you don’t want them to attend, it doesn’t mean you should also be financing their plans. You are teaching them lessons on responsibility and often includes putting in the work to be there.
Let the teen make any choices they can really make without hurting themselves or others. Balancing trust and accountability can be much more beneficial than just preventing them to do things. You might be wonderfully surprised by the result.
I’m Afraid My Troubled Teen Could Get Hurt
But not all stories are the same and some teens do get into real trouble. Parenting a troubled teen can be especially hard. If you are having a hard time handling your teen, it may be time to reach out to professionals.
You may want to look into schools for troubled teens to help with the growing process. Programs for troubled teens will help those struggling teens address their bad behavior and poor decision making. Family therapy can help address root issues affecting a troubled teenager.
Know how to assess if your teen is struggling with the responsibility that comes with freedom and own choices. Take the assessment test here.