The only thing standing in the way of your teen's independence is you

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Parents may be overestimating their efforts to support their teen's independence, finds a new survey which suggests helicopter mums and dads need to loosen the reins as their kids transition to adulthood.

"As children become teenagers, the role of parents shifts to helping them gain the knowledge and experience they will need for being independent adults," says poll co-director Sarah Clark. This includes everything from preparing for work and managing finances to taking care of one's health.

But the poll, conducted by Michigan C.S Children's Hospital, highlights that parents need to take a few steps back - and they know it.

One quarter of the 877 mothers and fathers questioned, admit they're the biggest impediment to their teen becoming more independent, saying it's simply less time and hassle to do things themselves.

When it comes to older teens, parents reported that most are handling school matters, such as keeping track of their assignments (83 per cent) and planning their study (83 per cent) on their own. Finances, however, are a different story, with fewer parents saying their teens are in control of money matters. Only 63 per cent of teens are earning money for extras, while 46 per cent are saving for the future.

Parents say older teens show more independence in getting enough exercise (74 per cent) and sleep (65 per cent) but are less able to manage stress on their own (48 per cent) or eat healthy foods (41 per cent). And they have limited ability to handle healthcare tasks including taking care of small injuries (49 per cent), taking the right dose of medicine (25 per cent) and making a doctor's appointment (8 per cent).

"We did not ask about life-or-death health care matters," Ms Clark says. "But we did ask parents whether their teens could independently handle very basic tasks, such as taking care of minor injuries, figuring out the correct dose of a medication or calling to make a doctor's appointment."

The authors concede that when teens are not feeling well due to illness or injury, parents may be hesitant to push them to handle certain tasks. "While this is understandable, parental over-involvement impedes teens from gaining experience and confidence," they write. "A better approach for parents may be to position themselves as a back-up resource, to be consulted only if the teen cannot handle the matter independently."

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For 60 per cent of parents, their teens are simply not mature enough (24 per cent), don't have enough time (22 per cent) and don't know enough (14 per cent) to take on more responsibility. And 19 per cent say it's just quicker and easier to do things themselves. 

But while parents might be absolutely right on this point, the authors say this view is "short-sighted". "[It] robs teens of a critical learning period where they can accumulate knowledge and skills for the future, while still at home with parents to provide guidance and support as needed.

"Parents of teens should look for regular opportunities to involve teens as much as possible in managing their own health, well-being and money matters, even if it takes a little more time."

The American Academy of Pediatrics also offers advice for parents noting: "As teens gain the privileges that come with being adults, they need to understand the responsibilities toward others and the community that come with these privileges. Decisions that adults make have adult consequences, both good and bad, that they will need to live with."

As such, parents should:

Do less: Stop doing things for your teens that they they can do themselves (making lunches or running an "emergency" washing load)."Parents who complain most bitterly about their teens' irresponsibility are often the ones who don't make their kids do anything for themselves," the AAP says.

Let consequences happen: Failure to hand in an assignment will simply result in lower marks and not putting clothes in the laundry might mean no clean clothes. There's no need to come up with special punishments to discourage irresponsibility, they note.

Help teens think through options: Help teens make decisions by sitting down with them and going through the answers to these questions:

  • What is the difficulty?
  • What are possible solutions?
  • What are consequences of each solution?
  • Which of those consequences is most desirable from a practical, personal, moral, or legal point of view?

You can find more tips from the AAP here