Fostering Independence in Teens: A Gift Before They Go


The time you have left with your teen is limited and needs to be well used.

It wasn’t the first time I heard it, but somehow it struck me anew. Maybe it was because I was living with a high school senior. But when my friend, who had already sent children off to college, encouraged me to foster independence in my son, the words sank in deeply and the wisdom hit home. In less than a year, my boy will leave for school. The time I have left with him is limited and needs to be well used.

Proverbs 6:20 says, “My son, keep your father's commandment, and forsake not your mother's teaching.” While I have walked alongside this child for 17 years and offered guidance and discipline throughout, this season offers me a new path to choose. Faced with the end of this part of our shared journey, how will I choose to respond? Is it possible to step away and, in doing so, foster necessary independence? What gift can I offer to prepare him for the road ahead?

Here is our plan for the year ahead:

  1. Encourage him to take his faith seriously as he seeks his next steps. Our children need to be encouraged to foster strong faith through devotions, church attendance, and spiritual experiences so that they build a strong foundation as they prepare to stand alone. We will encourage him to seek wise counsel and to pray often as he chooses a college, brings closure to high school, and maintains lasting friendships. We want our son to begin to use what he learns on Sunday to impact his decisions on all the other days of the week.
  2. Encourage him to take control of his time. Since he was little I have either planned his days or found myself subject to those plans. As he prepares to go off to school, he will need to learn to do all of this on his own. Whether he chooses a planner or becomes familiar with Google Calendar, it is time for him to organize his schedule as he sees fit. What better time to practice a skill that is not yet necessary but will be soon?
  3. Require that he handle his financial details independently. Whatever money he earns working must be managed and distributed. This is a great time to save, to tithe, to choose how he will spend. We can offer encouragement and support but we will intentionally offer less cash, as he learns to live within his means and manage what money he has.
  4. Allow academic success… and failure. Next year, my son is living in a dorm, taking classes, and surviving on little sleep (and even fewer vegetables). He will need to know how to prioritize his classes and his necessary study time. If we continue to direct him this year, who will do so when he is on his own? It is an amazing gift to allow our children to learn ways to be internally motivated even if that is difficult for us to watch. His college degree will be his alone. This year, he can learn what it means to earn great grades because it matters to him.
  5. Be certain that he has learned the life skills he will need next year. I want him to not only know how to do laundry, but to do it. He must not only learn to cook, but also make meals. He must practice cleaning, organizing, scrubbing, and disinfecting because it is something we all must do. So if it is part of our daily life here at home, my son must know how to do it (and have practiced) before he goes off to school.

As momma to this grown boy, I am coming to see that releasing him is a gift. It is sacrificial and beautiful and hard and gritty and right. I have the ability now to open my hands and my arms and let him walk forward knowing that still, he can land safely back at home. I can love him enough to celebrate his maturity while knowing that if the day is long or the struggle hard, he still has a place to rest. This gift is a wonderful middle ground.

But there is another gift to be given, from my boy to me. Because every time he steps out and succeeds, every time he makes the hard choice over the frivolous, every time he exercises wisdom over impulse, he offers his momma a way to see how very ready he is. In this there is comfort. These are the stories and the visions I will cling to when he is away and I am praying aloud. These are the comforts that will assure me that it was all in good time and that he is where he needs to be. He can show me, a little bit at a time that he is ready to own his life, to embrace his faith, to enmesh these two together in a way that will guide him when the path is new.

All this is a gift, blessing the child and the parent as well.

Written by: Nadia Swearingen-Friesen

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