The famous English raconteur Quentin Crisp once quipped, “The young always have the same problem—how to rebel and conform at the same time. They have now solved this by defying their parents and copying one another.” One of the biggest conundrums teens face is how to claim independence while still falling within the structural framework of society. It is an age-old battle of structure versus independence.
Teens are often battling with parents for their independence, and parents need to offer increased independence for their children to develop. However, teens also still need rules and structure to help them make decisions and set healthy limits. Parents who can find the right balance between structure and independence offer their children a healthy environment for growth.
Understanding Increased Independence as Positive
Many parents bristle at the thought of increasing their teen’s independence. Their minds race with all sorts of dangerous scenarios. They begin thinking about the harmful influences that exist outside the comfort of their own home.
These fears are understandable. There is a constant inundation of fearful stories regarding teen behavior that can fill parents with dread and anxiety. However, it is important to understand that, for the most part, these fears are unreasonable. If these fears interfere with allowing increased independence for their teenagers, parents could end up getting the opposite results of what they intended.
It is vital for teenagers to feel a sense of independence. They must be able to grow into their personalities. They must learn to handle situations on their own. Otherwise, parents run the risk of having a teenager that cannot adjust to new scenarios, express themselves honestly, or act responsibly and independently.
Now, does this mean that teenagers should get free reign to do and say whatever they want? Of course not! It is essential to balance independence with boundaries. This brings up the importance of rules and structure.
Maintaining Rules and Structure
While independence is crucial, it can be for naught if it is not implemented in tandem with an appropriate set of rules and structure. Building a foundation of structure in the home does not simply create a more harmonious home environment; it also sets teenagers up to grow into more adept and balanced young adults.
However, it is also important to avoid creating a structure that is too inhibiting and rules that are ultimately unreasonable. Just as a balance must be found between structure and independence, a balance must be struck regarding the rational and irrational nature of set rules.
So, what are some examples of set rules and structures within the household? Here are just a few:
- Set curfews that allow both safe independence and common courtesy
- Create a line of communication that is available at all times (for example, “please call if you are running late”)
- Set in place responsible boundaries when it comes to behavior within the house (appropriate, respectful language and reasonable responses to requests, for example)
- Avoid excessive punishment, but put in place disciplinary consequences if rules are not followed (this discipline should always be accompanied by positive feedback rather than negative messaging)
Having an open conversation regarding rules with teens can pay dividends when it comes to their growth and social skills as they become young adults. However, if a balance of rules is not properly established, parents risk alienating the teenager, along with creating unnecessary tension in the home.
Independence and Structure: Finding a Balance
Allowing a teen to contribute to foundational rules can go a long way in their adherence to these rules. When a teen is more involved in foundation building, it can give them a greater sense of independence. With this open line of mutual communication, an appropriate balance of structure and independence can be established.
While it may seem contradictory, it is also important to allow for malleability in this structure/independence balance. This does not mean that the teen can get away with not adhering to set rules; rather, it allows for rules to be responsibly adjusted if they are not showing efficacy.
Structural malleability can also be accomplished by setting reasonable caveats to rules. This may include allowing for phone calls if the teen is going to be a little late for curfew (with a reasonable explanation) or allowing a different set of “manners” in the home versus institutions outside. Striking this balance can give a teen a leg-up as they continue into young adulthood.
Maintaining Balance for Healthy Growth
As Crisp mentioned earlier, rebellion and conformity are often inevitable in the teenage years, but setting a foundation of structure early on can keep these two aspects of character in a reasonable line. Also, allowing a teen some independence can go a long way in how they learn to grow from mistakes.
It is important to remember how hard it can be to be a teenager, but it is just as important to remember that there are tools that can be used to make this time a little easier. Both parent and child deserve that chance.
Striking an appropriate balance between structure and independence can be difficult when dealing with teens. Teenagers often tend to want to rebel, which can make establishing rules rather difficult. However, it is important to create a structure that includes independence because too many restrictions often have the opposite of the intended effect. It is crucial to develop an honest relationship that includes boundaries. An open dialogue must be had regarding adolescent independence, or there becomes a risk of a teenager becoming unavailable and deceptive. When rules and boundaries are made that both parent and child can agree on, then there is a better chance for a healthy relationship. For more information, please contact Sustain Recovery at (949) 407-9052.