Adolescence can be a tumultuous time for both teens and caregivers alike. Not only are teens experiencing physical changes and relying more on peers, but they’re also navigating one of the most difficult crucial stages of development: Identity formation.
During this stage, teens are set to begin cultivating their own autonomy as an individual and budding young adult. While this crucial developmental stage undoubtedly places strain on a teen-caretaker relationship, there are ways to support your child and foster a strong relationship during this stage of their life.
Autonomy is the ability to think, feel, and make decisions on your own. It is a sense of self-reliance. Adolescents go through the process of developing emotional autonomy (the ability to regulate emotions and seek solutions without others), behavioral autonomy (the ability to make decisions on their own and follow through), and values-based autonomy (the ability to think critically and develop independent beliefs). These skills allow teens to manage their own lives and make thoughtful choices congruent with their values and goals. At Autonomy Therapy, our clinicians understand this process and are here to guide you and your teen.
Why is it important to develop autonomy?
Developing autonomy allows adolescents to think more creatively and become better problem-solvers, which are essential skills. Additionally, it fosters self-reliance, responsibility, and a stronger sense of self. Surprisingly, as teens develop more autonomy, it can lead to deeper, stronger family relationships rather than separation.
So, how can I support my teen?
1. BE A SECURE BASE FROM WHICH TO EXPLORE.
Sometimes it is helpful to think of adolescence as similar to toddlerdom – not necessarily in behavior (though both may love to say “NO!”) – but in the sense of both being crucial stages in developing autonomy. While learning, adolescents are bound to make mistakes. Anxiety arises when teens feel they aren’t allowed to make mistakes which may result in low self-esteem and less willingness to accept challenges or take risks for fear of “messing up.” For this reason, teens benefit from a secure bond with a trusted adult who embraces mistakes and presents them as a source of learning, allowing them to “fail safely” and continue to receive acceptance and love, regardless of what happens. Despite increasing independence, teens who have support and guidance from adults can develop even more self-reliance and self-confidence.
2. COLLABORATE AND INVOLVE THEM IN DECISION-MAKING.
Teens are more likely to follow and respect expectations when they understand why they are in place and when they are involved in decision-making. Allowing adolescents to collaborate with you while making choices – be it setting a curfew, deciding how to cut their hair and what they wear, whether or not they should get an after-school job, or how much screen time they get – demonstrates that you trust and respect their input as well. It is important to provide teens with opportunities to practice their autonomy. In adulthood, we likely have to collaborate with others who we don’t necessarily agree with and make negotiations to move forward. By hearing a teen’s perspective and explaining yours, you provide an example of what helpful communication looks like.
Developing autonomy ultimately leads to questioning of adults because the closer one gets to adulthood, the more they see how “human” adults are. Teens are questioning many facets during this critical period including their spirituality, gender identity, religion, sexuality, political beliefs, and career aspirations. While conversations about these topics may be uncomfortable, they allow teens to develop necessary critical thinking skills to navigate adulthood with a sense of confidence in their own self-created identity. It can cause tension to have differing beliefs; however, showing acceptance and unconditional positive regard can lead to stronger relationships and keep lines of communication open, rather than closed. Validation can go a long way.
4. REACH OUT FOR SUPPORT.
Remember, you don’t have to do this on your own! Consider therapy for the teen in your life and/or for yourself. Not only is your teen experiencing ample changes, but so are you alongside them, and a therapist can be present with you through these life transitions. Therapy can provide a safe place with a neutral adult for adolescents to explore their emotions, values, relationships, and pieces of their identity with curiosity rather than judgment. As therapists, we aim to help teens foster autonomy and self-trust, and hey, it’s even in our practice’s name!
Ready to Begin Online Therapy for Teens in Texas?
As a caregiver, reaching out for help with your children or teen can be scary. At Autonomy Therapy, our child and teen therapists are here to create a non-judgmental, caring environment for both you and your child. You don’t have to handle this alone. Let a child or teen therapist help today:
- Fill out a consultation form to describe a little about you!
- OR book a call if you know who you want to work with.
- Get started cultivating a life of joy for your child today.