Preparing for Independence
Once your child enters late adolescence (roughly coinciding with the entry into high school), you need to be thinking ahead to when high school is over. What happens then? Often the next step is going off to college or getting a job — in either case, probably moving out of the parents' home into shared living space with one or more roommates. This step will require more separation, freedom, independence, and responsibility than your teenager has known before.
Parents should try to encourage increased responsibility during the high school years so that the next step after high school feels as small as possible. New responsibilities will help the young person feel more prepared to function on his or her own. But how do parents teach this preparation? By teaching exit responsibilities and turning more responsibility over to their son or daughter during the high school years.
Teaching Exit Responsibilities
At age 14 or 15, or when your child starts high school, begin planning for graduation. By graduation, you want your teenager to be empowered with sufficient knowledge about responsible behavior and sufficient experience with taking responsibility to be willing and able to master the next step into more independent living. So freshman year in high school is the time for you to start thinking ahead.
The more exit responsibilities your teenager has mastered by the end of high school, the smaller and easier the next step into more independence will be.
Begin your teen's freshman year by asking yourself, “What exit responsibilities need to be in place at graduation to empower a successful transition into independence?” If you wait until senior year to ask these questions, you have waited too long. By then, with all the anxieties, distractions, and excitement that often accompany the final year in high school, a crash course in responsibility will not be well received by your teenager. Conflict, not learning, will result.
So, freshman year, list out the basic categories of responsibility in which your teenager will need competency to support more independence. The list is enormous. Then ask yourself the question, “As the parent, at what point along the way through high school, and by what means, do I want to start teaching my teenager each of these responsibilities?”
From these objectives, you can back up and specify a rough sequence and schedule of preparation for teaching your child the significant responsibilities he or she will need to support more independence upon graduation from high school. For example, at what age do you want your child to start to manage a bank account, to balance a checkbook, to use a debit card, to be responsible for budgeting to cover routine expenses, and to save for the unexpected?
At what age do you want your child to learn how to do minimum maintenance on a car — changing a flat tire, changing and safely disposing of oil, diagnosing common motor problems? At what age do you want your child learning how to find and hold employment? This list goes on and on.
Turning Over More Responsibility
The second part of laying the groundwork for more independence after graduation is turning more responsibility for self-regulation over to your teenager in high school. Consider some of the self-regulatory responsibilities you may want to turn over.
Being responsible for earning some of his or her personal expense money.
Managing household needs like food shopping, cooking, cleaning, and laundry.
Being responsible for budgeting a monthly allowance that covers certain basic living expenses (phone, gas, clothing, lunch, for example).
Managing homework and school performance.
Managing basic maintenance of a car (if driving).
Managing social schedule, curfew, and rest.
These and other responsibilities need to be progressively turned over so that by senior year, you have approximated full freedom of responsibility while your teenager is still at home. That way, should he or she fail in some area, you are still there to help him or her learn from mistakes. (Although these responsibilities are turned over while the teenager is still living at home, your son or daughter still must keep you adequately informed and contribute labor as part of his or her household membership requirements.)