Updated: Dec 23, 2021
When we help our children learn how to think about things that impact them we set them up for life. Rather than telling them what to think or feel or projecting our own ideas onto them; we can help them learn the skills to feel empowered and trust themselves. As parents when we make space for our children's own sense of agency to express and discuss their authentic self they are better able to make choices and decisions on things that influence their lives.
Agency develops a child sense of control over their own lives, it helps develops a stronger sense of identity during the teenage years and helps them make meaningful decisions about things that impact them. Often these decisions during the teenage years need to be made away from the family more and more, so it's important to start the ground work early on.
Sometimes parents can fall into the trap of thinking that protecting their children through silence or distractions is somehow less harmful but in the long run this way of trying to protect what you assume is in the child's best interest see's the child as helpless and in constant need of adult wisdom. Viewing your child as capable and empowered helps children learn to share and negotiate their interactions with others and engages with their natural curiosity, insight and meaning making skills. In this way of relating the child is learning constantly and growing.
Some helpful ways to develop your teens sense of self include:
Acknowledge and honour them for who they actually are rather than who you would like them to be. See the boundaries where you end and your child begins. This is especially important in broken homes where children need to navigate relationships with parents who are divorced or separated. Encourage your child to have a healthy relationship with with both parents and other adults close to them.
Allow your teens to make true choices as much as possible.
Provide rationale explanations for decisions you make whenever choice is not possible. Avoid punishment by taking away choices but rather calmly explain the reasoning for your decision.
Focus on acknowledging your child's willingness to engage in negotiating their own choices and when they do this successfully but also celebrate the fact that they try even if they make a mistake.
Be nurturing and responsive to your teen and respect your teen as an independent being and be willing to cooperate with them as an equal.
Offer your teen emotional support rather than just managing their basic needs (food, shelter, transport), check in with them and develop a relationship with them of equal power balance.
Be mindful of not being too authoritarian and constantly complaining about the things they are not doing well or withdrawing affection when they make a mistake.
Teenagers need connection, encouragement and understanding from their parents just as much as they did as children but often parents get frustrated with them wanting more independence and taking more risks. See those things as normal and work on being interested in who they are choosing to become.