Tag Archive: independence

  1. Can I Give My Teen Both Structure and Independence?

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    Can I Give My Teen Both Structure and Independence?

    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.

  2. Fostering Independence in Teenagers and Young Adults

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    Licensed counselors who treat teenagers and young adults see a variety of conditions in their patients. One common issue that arises relates to fostering an independent attitude and nature in a young person.

    When a therapist has a young patient who has difficulty establishing independence, the issue may spring from several sources. Helping the patient get to the root cause can assist in motivating them to change. This act involves both conversations with the therapist and with the family of the patient.

    Does the Child Deal With Helicopter Parents?

    The term “helicopter parenting” became popular over the past decade. This term describes parents who act in overprotective ways with their children. They often step in to make decisions or take actions that their adolescent or young adult child should be able to handle on their own.

    The parent may fear their child will not know how to deal with situations. Their intent may be to “save” their child, but instead, they may end up fostering a lifelong sense of dependence on their parents.

    If you believe your patient may have a helicopter parent, open up a discussion about it with the child. Ask questions such as:

    • When your parent constantly steps in to make or override your decisions, how does it make you feel?
    • Do you feel confident in taking action, no matter how minuscule, without first consulting with a parent?
    • Does a lack of feeling independent contribute to increased amounts of anxiety or depression?
    • Do you sense that helicopter parenting reflects a parental belief that your instincts are not to be trusted?
    • What decisions do you wish you had more power making by yourself?

    When possible, invite the patient’s parents to attend a counseling session. Go over how the child feels when the helicopter buzzes near them. Parents often need help understanding they are hindering their child’s chances of dealing well with adult situations if they do not have practice making them.

    Create a List of Ways to Be Independent

    Many young patients demonstrate a lack of experience in experimenting with independence. Talk to them about what they feel holds them back. If fear of failure presents as the root cause, assure them that everyone learns by making mistakes.

    Help your patient create a list of ways they think people in their age group should establish their independence. Then go over the list to get their input on where they stand with each task. The list can include things like:

    • The ability to do schoolwork and prepare for tests
    • Being responsible for getting themselves up in the morning on time
    • Postponing something pleasurable to do now to enjoy a bigger payoff later
    • Shop for and prepare their own meals and snacks
    • Project into the future and make realistic plans for how to achieve what they want
    • Set goals and meet them within reasonable amounts of time
    • Spend time socializing away from the family
    • Participate in sports, hobbies, and community activities independent of ones their family enjoys

    Young patients often benefit from having a clear idea of their capabilities concerning how independently they act. The child can share their list with a parent to increase communication between the two. A therapist may need to remind the parent to strike a healthy balance between checking in to make sure their child continues to work on the list and giving them the breathing room to do so.

    When Drug and Alcohol Addiction Is Part of the Equation

    Independence can be a tricky thing for a patient who has a history of drug and alcohol addiction. Parents may have well-founded reasons to doubt their children sometimes when it comes to accountability.

    Talk to your patient about whether their prior substance use disorder may factor into difficulty establishing independence. The patient may feel their parents do not allow them a range of free time or the ability to make their own decisions. These restrictions may come from fearing their child will associate with toxic people or make other decisions that tempt them to drink or use drugs again.

    If the child has made progress in their recovery, ask them to initiate a conversation with their parents. The patient can cite examples of time spent in recovery and smart decisions they have made. This open dialogue may lead a parent to offer greater freedom to their child.

    Remind everyone involved that no progress can be made if the child isn’t allowed room to strike out on their own. Even if they make a poor decision, this decision will enable them to take responsibility for it and learn from it.

    Children who develop a substance use disorder during adolescence will inevitably age into adulthood. If they have been allowed room to grow and shown that they can exercise independence, they are less likely to relapse in their recovery.

    Licensed counselors who treat adolescents and young adults often find the topic of independence comes up. Many young clients struggle with insecurity about being independent, while others have helicopter parents who tend to run their child’s life for them. Opening up several dialogues about what independence means to a patient and specific ways to achieve it can help them make immense progress. Sustain Recovery has experience treating adolescents and young adults who need help striking a balance between developing their independence and keeping their sobriety in mind. We treat young people with substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. We offer long-term residential programs that foster real independence in our clients, allowing them to learn to become responsible adults who put their recovery at the forefront. Call Sustain Recovery today at (949) 407-9052 to discuss how we can help your young client.


I first met Sayeh in November of 2013 just after my 15 year old daughter had been admitted to a residential treatment program. As part of the program I was required to attend 2-3 AlAnon meetings a week. Sayeh attended the same AlAnon meetings as well as Alumni events as I. It soon became apparent to me that Sayeh had a heart for recovery, program, and God. When I was encouraged to get a sponsor I didn’t hesitate. Dependable, respectful, kind and generous of spirit, she exudes an inner peace that I hope to achieve with her loving guidance, as I work my own program. She is patient, & full of wisdom that she is always happy to share with her sponsees and fellow parents. I am so grateful our journeys brought us together.

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