Teenage Freedom vs. Safety: Do Parenting Rules Need to Make Sense?
A few days ago, I took my two younger kids out to run errands and get haircuts. My oldest, who’s almost 15, wanted to stay home. While we were out, he called to let me know some of his friends wanted him to meet them downtown to go bike riding.
I told him no; I felt too distracted trying to get everything done so I could get home and get dinner. And I didn’t want to have another thing to worry about.
Plus, what if something happened—like he got hurt or there was another emergency? I was 10 miles away from home, and I might have been driving or had bad reception. It would be easy to miss a call or text.
I didn’t feel good about it at all. When I’m home, I let him have plenty of freedom to go spend time with his friends—and he always follows the rules and comes home on time.
This wasn’t really about me trusting him—but it did cross my mind it might be too tempting for him and his friends to hang out at our house without a parent.
The bigger issue was I would be too distracted to spend quality time with my other kids. I’d be constantly checking my phone and worrying about him. I just feel better if I’m home when he’s out with his friends.
Katie Bingham-Smith is a mother of three and full-time freelance writer who loves to paint and drink Diet Coke.
I asked my mom if I could go hang out with my friends the other day after school, and she said no. The reason was because she was “out running errands and didn’t feel good about it.”
It doesn’t make any sense. I was only asking to go one mile from home and hang out with friends like I always do. I’m always home on time, and just because she’s farther away than usual doesn’t seem like a reason not to let me go.
Her Rules Don’t Make Sense!
We were doing what we always do. My friends’ parents don’t have to be home for them to come hang out—their parents work outside their home, and my mom is just used to being home all the time because that’s where her office is.
I know if she would just let me go hang out with my friends once while she’s not home, she would see everything is fine and feel okay about it. It doesn’t make any sense to me, and I think it’s kind of a dumb reason—I’m almost 15!
Addison Smith is a 14-year-old who loves biking, lifting weights, and skateboarding with his friends.
This mom and her son both have valid perspectives. Mom gives her son “plenty of freedom to spend time with his friends,” but this time she wants to avoid worrying and prioritize her other two children. Her son feels like he has been trustworthy with his friends. As his peers already have social time without a parent at home, he believes his track record and maturity entitle him to the same trust and independence.
Mom wants to prioritize her worry-free space, but she doesn’t acknowledge that kids develop competencies when parents give them increasing freedom. Furthermore, they comply with rules when they see decisions as fair. Her reasoning “doesn’t make any sense” to him, which can stoke a teen’s fervor to go rogue.
Building Responsible Independence
Parents risk their children’s trust in them when decisions don’t feel fair or when the child’s feelings and needs aren’t understood. Mom is entitled to say no to her son. At the very least, however, she could reassure him about two things. First, that she hears his need for more freedom. And second, that she intends to grant him more in the future. After all, when teens are granted opportunities to be responsible with independence, they develop the muscles for self-governance—a big part of competence-building.
Laura Kastner, Ph.D., is a clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington and author of Getting To Calm: Cool-Headed strategies for raising tweens + teens and Wise-Minded Parenting: 7 Essentials for Raising Tweens + Teens.
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