Health and Wellness / Life Skills / Ages 8-18

5 Ways to Give Your Tween Some Freedom (Safely)

Parents today face a challenging dilemma: How much independence should we give our children as they grow, while also keeping them safe in a world that sometimes feels anything but? It’s all about the balancing act.

It seems like all around us, parents are getting messages that our kids are in trouble. Their mental health is suffering. They’re struggling in school. Bullying is common. It’s tempting to keep treating them like our babies. At the same time, if you have a tween, your child is probably pushing for more independence—and they need that as they grow. How’s a parent supposed to balance it all?

Here are 5 ways we’re trying to give our own kids some independence as they grow:


Set some clear ground rules (together).

Your kid might want to walk home from school on their own, get themselves to an extracurricular activity, or hang out around the neighborhood with friends. Ask them what they feel ready for, and agree to a set of boundaries you’re both comfortable with. Those could be geographic, like “you’re allowed to walk from X Street to Y Avenue without asking, but if you want to go further, you need to check first.” Or they could be activity-specific, like it’s okay to go to a certain friend’s house on their own after school, but if they shift locations beyond that, they need to check in.


Create opportunities to practice independence.

This is especially helpful for younger tweens or elementary schoolers who are new to venturing out on their own. Maybe there’s a local shop they can walk to on their own to pick up snacks, or a playground where they can shoot hoops or ride bikes with a friend. Younger children can start by paying for items at the store while you hang back, or checking out their own books at the library. Start small to build their confidence (and yours!), and go from there.


Make them get a job.

Your tween or young teen might not be ready for a real job (and it’s not legal for children under 14 to work, anyway). But even odd jobs like raking a neighbor’s yard, walking a younger child home from the bus stop, or shoveling the block in the winter can help your child build important life skills like responsibility and time management. They’ll probably appreciate the spending money, too.


Have the difficult technology conversation.

It's easier to allow your kid some freedom if you can see where they are whenever you want, and get in touch with them quickly if necessary. (And vice versa!) The tradeoff, obviously, is that it opens up a new digital world, with all its accompanying risks. (Social media?! Yikes.) If you go the smartphone route, take advantage of the parental limit options that are built into the devices, and set additional ground rules together as a family. (A phone use contract with your tween is a good idea.) For families that prefer to wait on smartphones, smart watches or “dumb phones” can be alternatives that will still allow you to stay connected while your child is out and about.


Get out of their way (and try to stay out).

This is the hardest part, right? Once you’ve agreed to the boundaries for your child’s newfound independence, don’t interfere—even if it seems like they’re going to mess things up.

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