How to Know When Your Teen Is Ready for More Freedom

Give Your Teen a Chance to Behave Responsibly

Increasing a teen's responsibilities and privileges are important ways to earn more freedom and show maturity. Brand X Pictures / Getty Images

Whether you're about the hand over your car keys for the first time or you're allowing your teen to stay home alone for the night, it's hard to know how much freedom your teen can handle. Certainly, you don't want to allow for too much independence.

If you give your too much independence, he may struggle to make good choices. And, he may be hesitant to tell you when he needs help.

On the other hand, however, being overprotective isn't helpful either.

Teens need opportunities to fail and chances to make mistakes.

Successful parenting requires you to find just the right balance. That means recognizing when your teen is ready for more independence, and offering increased responsibility at a rate he can safely handle. 

Let Your Teen Prove He Can Handle More

You won't know what your teen is capable of accomplishing until you give him a chance to show you what he can do. Sometimes, that's as simple as backing off. 

So rather than nag him to do his homework, take a step back. See if he can get it done without a reminder from you.

Or, rather than tell him to clean his room, see if he takes the initiative to do it on his own. If he struggles to be responsible, he might not be ready for more freedom.

Establish rules and follow through with consequences when those rules get broken. Don’t spend a lot of energy trying to prevent your child from breaking your rules.

Instead, give him some freedom to make mistakes on his own.

For example, a parent who invests 30 minutes each morning trying to drag a teen out of bed may be robbing the child of a chance to learn how to get himself up each morning. As an adult, he may struggle to get himself up for work when there’s no one there to wake him up repeatedly.

Set your teen up for success. Give him the tools he needs to begin behaving responsibly and then provide opportunities for him to practice using the tools you’ve given him.

Make Your Expectations Clear

Establish a behavior contract that will help your teen understand your expectations. Make it clear to your teen how you will know when he’s ready for additional freedom and what the consequences will be if he doesn’t meet your expectations.

Tell your child, "I'll know your mature enough to take driver's education when you can remember to hand in your homework often enough that your grades become all Bs or better." Or, say, "I'll know you can handle a later curfew when you consistently start getting up in the mornings without an argument."

Approach Independence in Stages

Increase your child’s freedom in small increments based on his ability to show you that he can handle more responsibility. If you do everything for him until he moves out of the house, you’ll be setting him up for failure. On the other hand, if you give him too much freedom too soon, he likely won’t be able to handle it.

If your child is following the rules and showing that he can handle independence, start increasing his privileges and responsibilities slowly.

Some ideas to offer more freedom include allowing your teen to:

  • Establish his own bedtime
  • Stay out later at night
  • Choose when to do his chores
  • Choose when to do his homework
  • Have more freedom with his electronics
  • Experience more freedom with friends
  • Go places unsupervised
  • Get a part-time job
  • Learn how to drive

Remove Privileges When Necessary

If your teen struggles to follow the rules and make healthy choices on his own, give him less freedom and less responsibilities. Remove privileges when necessary.

Let your teen’s behavior show you how much responsibility he’s ready for.  There may be times where your teen’s behavior seems to regress and at other times, it will likely show great progress.

As your teen enters new developmental phases, it’s likely that his behaviors will fluctuate. Adjust your rules and consequences according to what your teen’s behavior shows you about his ability to handle freedom and extra responsibilities.

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