Encouraging independence means letting teens have a few secrets

One way to encourage independent teens: let go of the need to know everything that is going on in their lives. Our experts say that it is better for parents not to know about some of their teen's secrets.

Daniel J. Murphy/Northwest Herald/AP
Andrew Poticha, 17, right, and Erick Olsen, 17, both of Crystal Lake, Ill., back out of a parking space at Crystal Lake South High School on March 8, 2012. Parents need to let go of knowing everything about their teenagers if they want to encourage independence.

The truth is there are some things that as a parent of a teen, actually as a parent in general, you are better off not knowing. Stop a moment and think back to your own teen years. Think back to a specific time when you did something so risky, so dangerous, so stupid, or any combination of the three, that it is a miracle you are still around. Can you think back to a time when luck had to have been on your side because if it hadn’t been, you probably wouldn’t be reminiscing about this?  Now ask yourself, if by some chance your parents did not find out about this, did you tell them anyway? We are willing to bet that a large majority of you did not tell your parents.

While there were many reasons for not enlightening your parents, we would guarantee that besides wanting to avoid a consequence you also had their best interests in mind. We mean, why inform them after the fact when you were okay? Did they really need the anxiety, disappointment and even despair that could have easily ensued? So, where are we going with this? It is really quite simple: there are some things about your teens that you are probably better off not knowing.

There is much truth to the saying “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” As your teens work to establish their identities and assert their independence they are likely to make mistakes and missteps. Many of these you are probably better off not knowing about. You have raised them well, instilled in them the virtues and values that you felt were not only needed but necessary. It is during adolescence that parents need to allow their teens to try out their wings. If communication is strong and the bonds of trust and respect are mutual and firm, then you have done your job. If they need your assistance, advice or the wisdom of your experience they are likely to fly back to you.

You can't encourage independence and autonomy by preventing them from trying to fly. While the shelter and protection of the nest may ease your anxiety, how will it help them if a predator comes swooping down to grab them?

The next time you have that urge to read that journal or diary that you know is hidden away in the desk or under the mattress, don’t. Repress the urge to listen in on their conversations with their friends, or read the notes from friends or “significant others” stuffed in their pockets. When you model respect and honesty, your teens are most likely to follow suit. Now we do want to be clear. If you have noticed major changes in your teen’s appearance and or behaviors that concern you, sit down and gently discuss this with them. If your concerns continue, seek out the help of a professional. We are not recommending that you write off these changes as typical teen behavior.

If you feel confident that your teen generally makes good decisions and if your teen is growing, maturing and thriving emotionally and socially, chances are strong that he is headed in the right direction. You are better off not knowing about the times when he may have veered slightly off the path to the left or the right. There is a reason whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas and in Vegas it should remain.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Jennifer Powell-Lunder and Barbara Greenberg blogs at Talking Teenage.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.