Colleen Gengler, Extension Educator, emerita — Family Relations
2011. Reviewed March 2017 by Jodi Dworkin, Extension Specialist and Associate Professor — Family Social Science.
Becoming autonomous is a developmental task in which teens become independent of their parents (and others) emotionally, in decision making, and in developing their own principles and beliefs.
How to View Autonomy
Parents often think that “autonomy” means that their teen must separate from them and give in to peer influence. But that’s not true. Here’s a more realistic, healthy, and developmentally appropriate way to view autonomy: The parent and the teen together figure out a new relationship that is based on the teen becoming more mature. It means that teens are not disconnected from their parents, but connected in different ways. It also means that parents and teens will relate to each other in new ways.
It is true that peers have more influence on some issues than parents as described in the section on social and emotional changes. But parents still have influence. Laurence Steinberg, an expert in adolescent psychology, describes it this way: "It is detachment from parents, rather than attachment to peers, that is potentially harmful."
What Parents Can Do
- Discuss issues and ideas with your teen. Encourage their thinking and don't criticize ideas you may question. Just say, "Tell me more about how you came to that conclusion."
- Model respect in your discussions with teens. Modeling goes a long way in encouraging respectful conversations and behaviors.
- Help teens identify their strengths and talents.
- Ask teens to take on added responsibilities in the home based on their strengths and talents. For example, the teen who is good at writing can help write thank you notes and holiday cards for grandparents or extended family members.
- Consider relaxing the rules as your teen shows increasing responsibility. An example might be a later curfew on weekends.
McNeely, C., & Blanchard, J. (2010). The teen years explained: A guide to healthy adolescent development. Baltimore: Center for Adolescent Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Simpson, A. R. (2001). Raising teens: A synthesis of research and a foundation for action. Boston: Center for Health Communication, Harvard School of Public Health.
Steinberg, L. (2008). Adolescence. New York: McGraw-Hill.
What’s Normal for Teen development? — Learn about the biological, physical, social, and emotional changes that are occurring for teens and get tips for what parents can do. Part of the Teen Talk: A Survival Guide for Parents of Teens series.
The Teen Years Explained — Clea McNeely, PhD and Jayne Blanchard — This e-book can help both teens and adults to understand developmental changes and tips for how to apply this knowledge to your everyday life.