With all the dangers both perceived and existent in the world, this is one of those issues that millions of parents the world over struggle with on an almost daily basis. How much independence you should allow your child to have is something that is determined by a number of factors, key among them being your parenting style. Finding the right balance can be difficult, on one end of the spectrum you have people with a very strict parenting style which can include taking an overprotective or excessive interest in the life of their child or children. (aka the ‘helicopter’ parent) and on the other end you have carefree, allow their kids to do whatever with very little parental supervision (aka the ‘free-range’ parent).
Whilst noone wants to admit to being a helicopter parent sometimes it’s hard not be! Being a parent (especially for the first time) is all a major learning experience and at the end of the day it’s finding a style that works for you. Everyone is great at giving advice but only YOU know what you’re comfortable with in terms of boundaries with your children.
Teaching your kids responsibility
From a very young age, you should begin to instill upright morals, behaviors, and standards in your children, one of which should be responsibility. Parents who find themselves struggling to allow their children to have independence are often afraid that their kids are not responsible enough for themselves. By teaching your child responsibility, you can learn to trust them to make informed decisions and therefore, allow them to develop some level of independence and identity.
We need to remember that our kids will one day (as much as we don’t want them to) grow up. The hope I have for my kids is that they will be assertive, independent individuals - if they have been told what to do their whole lives, had everything handed to them without working for it and sheltered from the real world they will as adults be constantly looking for someone to tell them what to do and more than likely have a sense of ‘entitlement’ which won’t get them very far in life.
Insist on open communication
Communication is a vital aspect of parenthood. As your kids get older you should be able to comfortably express your concerns to your child and have them understand WHY you are concerned. That is only possible if he or she also feels confident, comfortable, and safe to approach you with issues, knowing you will not just turn them down without considering them. By allowing open two-way communication with your children, you show that you trust them enough to let them be independent. At the same time, you are also assured that they will inform you if there is a threat to that independence.
Develop a reinforcement system
As you’ve probably gathered I’m all for allowing children to be independent, but there is a fine line. Parents should ALWAYS be parents - NOT friends with their kids. If you become too friendly you blur the line between being authoritative and respected and becoming a pushover and let them walk all over you (this is most apparent when boys and girls hit puberty). That is why you need to develop a reinforcement system with both discipline and reward in equal measure. You should reward positive behaviour and punish negative behaviour. This shows that you trust them and encourage them to be their own person, but also that you are in control of the situation and will not tolerate a violation of that trust.
In a nutshell
It is important to allow kids to be independent, to think for themselves, make mistakes, and learn from them. However, it is equally important to watch out for them and protect them from the dangers you know are lurking out in this cruel world. The truth is it is not easy. You need to be patient with yourself and your children. Sometimes they will hug and thank you and say ‘You’re the best’ and other days they will get attitude and wish you were inexistent! That is all part of the job description and at the end of the day, as long as your children are safe, kind, independent freethinkers who know right from wrong, you will have done a pretty decent job in my books.
What parenting style works for you? Please let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below!