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Determine how much freedom and responsibility tweens and teens can handle

Paula Statman, MSSW is an internationally respected educator, speaker and award-winning author. Her practical, positive approach to raising safe and strong children has benefited hundreds of thousands of parents. Paula is a repeat guest ...

It’s wise to supervise

When children are young, it's simple to decide how much supervision they need - constant. Young children lack good judgment and should not be left alone for long.

Angry tween

Freedom and responsibility

  quotation mark open Early on, we must find a balance between two extremes of protecting our children – under protecting and over protecting. Either extreme can lead to frustration and conflict.quotation mark close

But as they get older it becomes more complicated to determine just how much freedom and responsibility they can handle. For example, starting when they are preteens, you must also consider the possibility of them engaging in risky behavior or not being able to resist peer pressure when unsupervised.

Sometimes we forget that our job is to prepare our kids to be able to function in the world without us, not spend the first 18 years of their lives rescuing them or run interference for them for. So, early on, we must find a balance between two extremes of protecting our children – under protecting and over protecting. Either extreme can lead to frustration and conflict. At its worst, expecting too much from your child places him in danger. But expecting too little and holding him back from trying something can leave him with self doubts and unwarranted fears.

Should you say yes or no?

Let's say your 12 year old wants to walk to a movie with a friend. Or your sitter cancels and you are debating whether or not to leave your 10 year old in charge so that you can keep your appointment. Should you say yes or no?

It helps to remember that before you can say yes with confidence, kids need supervised learning where the stakes are low and mistakes are expected. Under your or another adult's guidance, they have the chance to rehearse the skills and knowledge they will need to succeed in a new situation.

Postpone responsibility

Also, be ready to postpone assigning a responsibility or giving more freedom until you are fairly sure that your child will have a safe and successful experience. For example, rather than discouraging the 10 year old who can't wait to baby sit, set up situations where she can be a mother's helper or can co-baby sit with a teenager. Then, when she's 13, enroll her in a local Safe Sitter program. These incremental practice steps will prepare her to safely and confidently be in charge of small children.

What about the 12 year old who wants to walk to a movie with a friend? Before you make your decision, discuss several hypothetical situations that require him to problem solve, like what to do if a group of kids bully him and his friend. If you are not satisfied with how he solves potential problems — perhaps he can't answer you or demonstrates some gaps in judgment — be prepared to postpone the privilege awhile and make a plan with him to have more discussions. You are not saying no so much as you are setting the expectation that he must demonstrate that he can handle any potential problems that may occur before you can say yes with confidence.

Don't say yes because you hate saying no

If you don't say no when it matters, in addition to possibly endangering your son or daughter, you aren't doing them any favors. They will learn from your example that saying no is a bad or uncomfortable thing. The fact of the matter is they must learn to say no if they are going to take care of themselves out in the world. Also, saying no teaches your children important lessons, like how to deal with disappointment, something that kids get over a lot faster than we do.

So when your child asks for more freedom or a new responsibility should you say yes, no, or provide supervision and practice?

Things to consider

Here are some tips for making wise decisions that both encourage and protect your child:

  1. If they demonstrate they can handle more freedom and responsibility and you feel they are prepared to have a safe and successful experience, SAY YES.
  2. If it is something you would never allow – for example, it goes against your values and beliefs or it's too dangerous, SAY NO.
  3. POSTPONE the privilege/responsibility until the child has had more opportunities for supervised practice. "Let's practice again this weekend and then we'll see if you are ready to ride your bike in the street."
  4. No matter what, don't say yes because you think she is "old enough." Far more important than your child's age is how well she demonstrates her ability to handle a situation before she has to deal with it on her own.

More ways to communicate with your teen or tween

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