Teenagers (13-18)

When Can Your Kids Handle More Freedom?

There’s a healthy tension that exists between parents and their tween and teen children. The children yearn for more freedom and independence, while the parents want to protect them from the potential dangers out in the wide world. For tweens, this struggle usually surfaces around issues like going unsupervised to the mall or to a movie with friends. How do you know when your child is ready for the responsibility of no-parent outings? Here are some considerations to help you make the call.

  • How well does your child handle responsibility and keep his word in the home? When he says he’ll do something (cut the grass, take out the trash, etc.) can you count on him? If so, he may be ready to handle following the rules you set for his time away from home with your oversight. If not, think long and hard about whether it’s a good idea to set him up for failure in an environment where the distractions—and dangers—are greater.
  • What do you know about the friends she’ll be with on the outing? Better yet, how well do you know the other parents and the rules and expectations they’ve set for their children? If you’re confident that the ground rules for all the kids are consistent, and the friends have a track record of obeying their own parents, you’re probably on safe ground. Take any one of these positive factors away, however, and the date is probably a “no.”
  • Is this a mixed-gender outing? If so, are you comfortable with your child being a part of what is essentially a group date?  Lots of parents wouldn’t knowingly allow their kids to “date” at 12 or 13, but by sending them out unsupervised as tweens, they’re often doing just that. So be clear about with whom they’re going to the movie, and if they’re meeting other (ahem) “friends” at the theatre.
  • Be specific about the ground rules. Is it OK to go to the food court after the movie? Is it OK to walk to their favorite store on the other end of the mall? Is it permissible, under any circumstances, to leave the premises where you’ve dropped them off, or get in the car with an older teen? Must they always, always, always stay with the group? Make the expectations clear and finite, so there’s little chance of miscommunication.

This is another area of parenting where baby steps are probably a good idea. You might test the water by dropping them off with friends for a very specific event, like a movie, and pick them up immediately after. This scenario leaves little room for error, and lets you watch how well they handle the responsibility. If your child handles the smaller outings without going astray from the rules, they can probably handle a little more freedom soon.

When it’s all said and done, however, you have to follow your parental instincts. If you sense danger or have a bad feeling about a particular “going out” request, say, “No.” It’s as simple as that. Your kids may not understand, and may even turn up the drama to make you feel like an overprotective warden, but one day, they’ll thank you. And even if they don’t, you’ll know you erred on the side of love.

© 2010 iMOM. All Rights Reserved. Family First, All Pro Dad, iMOM, and Family Minute with Mark Merrill are registered trademarks.

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