Parenting Resources

Building Independence in Adolescents

Adolescents naturally desire to be independent---until they need something that can’t be easily accessed (money, cars, clothes) and then you will quickly notice they remember their parents are available.  Sometimes this transition from childhood to adulthood can manifest as rebellious and disrespectful behavior, leading to great conflict with parents. Much of the time, however, your adolescent is attempting to navigate the pathway between dependence and independence.  

In an article titled, Teaching Your Adolescent Independence, Dr. Carl Pickhardt discusses four components to training adolescents for independence: (1) responsibility, (2) accountability, (3) work, and (4) self-help. 


Parents often undermine the adolescent’s development of independence by
not holding adolescents accountable for their actions OR not requiring responsibility, work, and self-help.

  • One way to avoid some of the conflict is to build boundaries early (even as toddlers), be consistent but fair, and understand every individual finds his/her way to independence/maturity differently

  • As adolescents are “testing the waters,” parents can make this transition much easier for all concerned by allowing their child to make decisions---and experience the consequences.  

  • Discussing needs vs. wants with teens is a tough task, as their frame of reference and level of maturity leans to immediate gratification.  So, when they do make good decisions (come home on time, get off their devices when told to do so, spend money wisely), parents can offer more freedom, explaining that as the adolescent can be trusted, they can be allowed a longer rope…

  • Consider helping with larger financial purchases after the adolescent has demonstrated responsibility.  For instance, if your teen wants to drive the car, list the cost of gas, insurance, and auto maintenance;  then tell them when they have x amount, you will assist with insurance.

  • Release your “leash” in unexpected ways and reward good decisions.  For example, ask a teen to drive to the store to pick something up, or drive the family to a destination like church, the mall, etc.; When they show responsibility in driving and obeying the rules of the road, tell them what a great job they did – and you are pleased to know they are available when you can’t drive.  

  • Allow adventure or risk that isn’t dangerous (go camping with friends (older teens); go to a theme park with other families or friends; volunteering with a group like church that is helping those in need or in a disaster.

  • Look for opportunities for your adolescent to ‘earn a paycheck’ and demonstrate responsibility and accountability to another adult.  This could be as ‘simple’ as a lawn mowing job or babysitting – but these jobs allow your teen to demonstrate punctuality, responsibility, and task completion.  These skills help your teen feel confident and competent.

  • Allow your teen to open a bank account, utilize a checking account or in other ways manage his/her own money.