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Autonomy in adolescence: how can parents support it?

Autonomy is a huge driver for feelings of well being and when we are denied our autonomy it can have a huge impact on how we feel (David Rock, Martin Seligman).

Recent family experience with Alzheimer’s disease has given me an intense view of the impact of loss of autonomy and I can see how hard it is, as a carer to help people maintain some autonomy while at the same time ensuring their safety and safety of the environment. Also I can see the impact of it’s loss.

This has got me thinking about how we as parents can allow increasing autonomy with our adolescent children while at the same time ensuring (or maybe more realistically promoting) their safety and safety within the environment. Especially given that adolescents are (due to the brain changes that are happening) novelty seekers (Dan Siegel)

I think the important thing is awareness. Knowing that young people need to experience autonomy and increasing independence to learn and grow and also to experience feelings of well being is the first step.

And then how do we as parents begin to feel ok with this increasing autonomy and independence. What do we say yes to and what do we say no to? How do we know they will be safe? I have put some strategies  below but it’s tricky and I would love to hear some ideas from you.

  • When a request that at first sounds like an immediate “no”! comes your way try:
  • Asking the young person for a plan – “you will need to convince me that you can do this and you will be safe”?
  • Telling them why the request concerns you and ask them how they can modify it in a way that will lessen your anxiety while maintaining their independence
  • Because we learn from our mistakes work out for yourself what you are happy for them to fail at and what needs to be safeguarded and base your decision on this. And then ask them to work out a contingency plan!

Asking young people to take responsibility and solve their own problems gives them autonomy regardless of the amount of independence you allow them in the end, based on the request! You may still get push back on your decision but they will know they had input to it and were a part of it and may be more likely to keep coming to you in the future.

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