There are things that your child needs, such as love, discipline, Biblical guidance, etc., but those are needed at all stages of life. For a preteen specifically, the greatest gift that you can give them is…INDEPENDENCE!
Chances are they are fighting for it and you’re fighting against it. It’s healthy for a parent to want to protect and guide their preteen, but it is also healthy for that same preteen to want more independence. This is a step in their journey to being self-supporting adults. So how do you give independence to your preteen in a healthy way?
Do It In Stages
It’s not wise to just jump into full independence with a preteen. They’re not ready to handle that. But that doesn’t mean that they can’ handle stages of independence. Start small by giving them freedom to purchase their own clothes, but set some rules about the price and fit. Or let them be on their own at the mall, but give them a time and place to meet back with you. These are great lessons in how to be responsible and follow directions without constant authority. It is also great to give options so that they are getting to make decisions instead of it being made for them. As they display responsibility with the freedom that you’ve granted, then you’ll know that it is safe to give more.
Let Them Screw Up
If you give them the freedom to make choices and be independent, then you can be guaranteed that they will mess up. They will make the wrong choice or misuse their independence, but that’s ok. Making mistakes helps them to learn how to work through difficult situations and face consequences for their own actions. This is also teaching them the value of respect. When you give them the freedom to make a choice and follow through with it even when you see that it is headed for disaster, it shows that you respect them and their decision. You want to watch out for their health and safety, but otherwise let them learn from making mistakes.
Diminish but Don’t Disappear
As a parent of a preteen, you need to diminish the amount of dependence of your child puts upon you. You must grant them some freedoms so that they can learn to make decisions, process consequences, and be responsible. But this does not mean that you disappear. One of the critical parts of developing healthy independence in a preteen is providing them guidance. As you grant more freedom to your preteen, you need to also increase the communication. You should be setting clear expectations—not necessarily rules, but expectations—and following up when they fall short. When they make mistakes, take the opportunity to discuss it with them and give them Biblical guidance for next time. When they do well with the independence they’ve been granted, talk with them about how great they did and how much you trust them to keep doing the right thing. Preteens need hear praise and correction from their parents. As you grant your preteen more independence, make sure that you guide them and communicate well.