It can be hard to know how much to loosen the reins for your teen. When are you being too controlling? When are you not giving enough structure? The balance is crucial.
After raising five teens, Ann has some practical advice based on years of experience.
And it can apply to younger kids in some ways, too!
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This episode is sponsored by CTC Math.
Have you tried CTC Math yet with your child? Here is a testimonial from another happy homeschool mom:
Amber said, “I’m absolutely thrilled with CTC Math. It’s a rare find that I’ve used with my children for more than six years now. I have six children using CTC Math and each child has found it easy to navigate and very applicable. I love seeing them enjoy this math program and grow in their mathematical journey. Thank you so much for all that you are doing and for providing quality math lessons for my children.”
If you’re looking for a great online math program, visit ctcmath.com!
Episode 79: Granting Autonomy to Your Homeschooled Teen
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Ann Karako: Hi, this is Ann Karako, and you are listening to episode 79 of the It’s Not that Hard to Homeschool High School podcast.
Welcome to another episode of It’s Not that Hard to Homeschool High School, the podcast for real people, so that you can confidently, competently, and yes, even contentedly provide the high school education that is best for your teen and your family. I’m your host Ann Karako from notthathardtohomeschool.com.
Hello, everyone, and welcome. Today, we are going to continue with our series that has been loosely called the care and feeding of homeschooled teens. I’m actually not going to touch on the feeding part. It just sounded good. [chuckles] Today, we’re going to talk about giving your teen a measure of autonomy. In other words, the ability to decide some things for themselves. It is a constant parenting dilemma, how much autonomy do we give? In other words, how much do we loosen the apron strings? How much freedom do we give them to stretch their little wings and fly, and when? Hopefully, we’ll answer some of those questions today.
The truth is that we homeschool moms tend to be a bit, oh, shall we say controlling? [laughs] Raise your hand. You’re out there. I, for certain, have been. There is a lot of reasons for that. First of all, we just in general are very capable women and we know how we like things to be, so we make sure that they turn out that way, but there’s more to it than that. Oftentimes, it helps to avoid conflict. We have our kids home 24/7. We don’t get a break. Nobody gets a break from one another. We’re together all the time. Sometimes it’s easier for us to be controlling situations to avoid conflict between siblings or between kids and ourselves. When we are in control, then there’s less conflict to deal with, less opposing opinions.
Also, we use it to train our kids. We are wanting to train them in obedience. We don’t have school teachers to help us with that. We don’t have detention after school to help us with that. Being somewhat controlling, or giving a lot of structure would be another way to look at that, is a way to train our kids to be content, to be willing to do what they’re told to do, to live in the conditions that exist. That’s something that we want them to learn because it is out there in the world that they’re going to need to know how to adapt to varying situations without causing problems.
Also, we’ve got a lot to do each day. It’s the schooling for sure. It’s all the household chores and all the cooking and more besides, and so being in control, having control, telling everybody what to do when, can help everything get done the way it needs to get done. It’s understandable that we are somewhat controlling, but when it comes time for the teen years, we do have to learn to loosen up a little bit. We can be so used to it that we don’t know how to do that.
The problem is that when our kids become teens and as they go through the teen years, if we are too controlling, that is what can cause them to rebel. It’s as if we’re not trusting them to know what to do by this point and we still have to tell them. I am still guilty of this; even today my youngest was giving me a little bit of pushback. She’s 19 years old now, out of the house, as far as off at college most of the time. I was being too much telling her what to do, because she does know, she does know, but I somehow think I still need to make these suggestions. Sometimes even that is enough to be causing a problem. Even making a suggestion can cause a problem.
Too much control and our teens can rebel, but not enough control and they can be making poor decisions. They can get themselves into some trouble. Really, the least problem, but still a significant one, if we are not controlling our teens enough, if we’re not providing enough structure for them, is that they get a big head. They begin to get prideful. Then they resist anything. Anytime you do need to make a decision for them, they are resistant to that because they are used to having their own way all the time.
Then the question becomes, though, how much autonomy do you give your teen? Here’s an answer that may sound helpful, or it may sound incredibly vague. Basically, you want to give them as much autonomy as they can handle responsibly, and then you want to give them just a little bit more.
When my kids were younger, we took a parenting class. In that class, there was an illustration of a funnel. Imagine what a funnel looks like. The top is very wide. The bottom is very narrow.
We can look at the amount of decision-making we allow our kids to have as being represented by the funnel, with the bottom narrow part being where we are imposing a lot of structure on them and they have very little decision-making power, to the top, where we are imposing very little structure and they have a lot of decision-making power. The funnel is wide. They’ve got a lot of room to maneuver inside that wide part of the funnel. The idea is to widen that funnel of autonomy gradually and take note of how they handle it. This is going to happen pretty much at any age.
When our kids are really small, we are telling them what to do 24/7. As they get a little bit older, now we’re going to let them pick out their clothes. I let my oldest one pick out her clothes much less than I let my youngest one. From her, I almost from the get-go let her pick out as soon as she was able to choose things out of the drawer, and she came up with some pretty crazy combinations, I’ll tell you. I realized that clothes at that age were not a big deal, except that, again, there’s that idea of, does that mean that she’s going to resist my instruction in other areas? To be honest with you, it turned out she kind of did. In later years, I thought maybe I should have been more controlling, if you will, about her clothes decisions for a longer period of time. Maybe I let that funnel widen too early for her.
I just want to take a quick second to let you know that this episode has been sponsored by CTC Math. I have used CTC Math in my own homeschool, and as a former math teacher, I can highly recommend it as a solid math program. Have you tried CTC Math yet with your child? Here is a testimonial from another happy homeschool mom. Amber said, “I’m absolutely thrilled with CTC Math. It’s a rare find that I’ve used with my children for more than six years now. I have six children using CTC Math, and each child has found it easy to navigate and very applicable. I love seeing them enjoy this math program and grow in their mathematical journey. Thank you so much for all that you are doing and for providing quality math lessons for my children.”
If you’re looking for a great online math program, visit ctcmath.com. That’s ctcmath.com.
With our teens, we’re going to give them new areas to practice autonomy in and watch and see how they do. Clothing is kind of a universal thing because our teens start experimenting with much more fashionable choices, and yet sometimes we might find those outside of our comfort zone. It can be a delicate balance between allowing them to choose and us having to put our foot down about whether something is appropriate for a given situation, but it is an area where we can allow them to choose and watch how they choose.
Here’s another example, their schedule. During the day, how much decision-making do they have over their schedule? Now, maybe at the beginning of ninth grade, not so much, but I’ve said many times that by the end of high school, no later than senior year, they should have full control of their schedule all day, every day, so that they can learn how that works before they have to go out to college or the workplace and handle it completely on their own without any help from you at all. Definitely, the schedule is a place where we want to allow them some more autonomy gradually and see how they do.
I’ve already done a podcast about the benefits of letting your teen sleep in and determine their own time to go to bed and to wake up. I think this is a great way to allow them some decision-making of their own and to provide a little more motivation for them to do their schoolwork when they feel that it’s more biologically in tune for them to do so. These are just three simple examples. There are all sorts of ways to allow their autonomy throughout the day.
The thing is that, we do need to be dialoguing with them about it all. For instance, “Hey, you know what? I think it’s time for you to start making these decisions on your own, but if you have any questions, let me know, I’d be happy to talk it over with you,” and then watch and see how they do. They might not be making responsible choices with their schedule, for instance. They might be putting their hardest subject off until the very end of the day when they are tired. Then they’re not doing well in it, or they’re not completing it at all, they’re falling behind, and then it’s time to dialogue and say, “Well, this isn’t working as well as it could be. I think it’s time to maybe impose a little more structure on you about this particular thing until you can find a way that works best for you and then maybe we can try this again.”
We’re dialoguing throughout. Yes, if they’re not handling something responsibly, then it becomes time to narrow that funnel back a little bit. With teens, you’ve got to dialogue about that. You’ve got to explain to them why so that they can understand and respect that and they’ll keep trying. You’re not trying to discourage them, you’re just trying to say, “Hey, we need a little more growth in this area,” or maybe it’s on you and you need to train them a little more in that area before you let them loose on it.
Now, when I say give them just a little bit more, that’s the area where growth is going to happen. When you are giving them just a little bit more autonomy than you know they are responsible with, that’s where they are learning how to deal with new situations and how to stretch those wings of theirs. Yet it’s not a huge, intimidating, overwhelming situation, it’s just a little bit outside their comfort zone and yours.
[chuckles] A huge example of this is driving. I’m going to say this, after having five kids get their driver’s license, you are never ready for that first time after they get their license and you send them off on their own. You are never ready for that. It is scary. I don’t care how many times you’ve driven with them and how responsible you think they actually are. I’ve got to be honest with you, I even had this conversation with one of my friends the other day, where it gets scarier as you go down the birth order. [chuckles] You don’t realize all the messes kids can get into with their driving until you’ve taught a few of them. Then as you try to teach the ones that are younger, as they come up to that age, you are scared way more than you were with the older ones. At least that was my experience and my friend’s experience.
You’re never ready for them to take that first drive by themself, but you’ve gotta do it. You’ve gotta get outside of your comfort zone and give them those keys and send them off to the corner store and see how they do. This is true in many other areas as well.
I mentioned earlier the difference between parenting your oldest child and your youngest child. It is true that we tend to be much more structured and controlling with the older children, and then as we go down the birth order, we tend to loosen up quite a bit. There’s a caution there. Be careful not to be too controlling with the oldest, but also be careful not to overcorrect with the youngest.
I’m going to say I made both of those mistakes. I think they’re very normal parenting mistakes, so I’m not going to just beat myself up about it, but if you are sitting there listening to me, then learn from my mistake. It does make things a lot easier. First of all, the older kids have less to complain about as far as, “You never let me do that,” [laughs] which makes those relationships better, but also, it does help keep things a little bit more even keel with the younger kids when we are parenting them similarly to the way we did with the older kids.
As we are granting autonomy, remember that what we want is for them to be able to try things, and if they’re going to fail, to do it in a safe place here at home so that we can guide them through that failure and how to pick up the pieces. That’s another reason to grant them autonomy now rather than being uber-controlling and then all of a sudden setting them free after they graduate.
Let’s consider it an important part of our parenting to allow them to learn, to make decisions, to deal with the consequences of their decisions, to grow, to move forward, to take responsibility. There are still going to be a few times where you have to make decisions for them, be sure to get their input about that. If you’ve been dialoguing all along, then this is another thing to dialogue about, is, “Hey, I know I’ve been normally allowing you to make this decision, but in this particular instance, I need to make it for you. These are the reasons why. What would you prefer? If I can grant your preference, I will do so.”
We’re going to talk about dialoguing with your teen in a later episode because it is definitely something that they need from us. We’ll go into that in great detail later.
I hope this has been helpful as far as things to consider when loosening the reins with your teenagers. Definitely, if you have any questions or comments, you can leave a comment on the page where the show notes are. If you’re listening to this on another platform, go to notthathardtohomeschool.com, click on Podcast in the top menu and then look for this episode 79, and you can leave a comment by scrolling to the bottom. There will be a transcript there to read. There will also be links to related articles, including a link to the podcast episode about your teen sleeping in, which I referred to earlier.
My book, Save Your Sanity While Homeschooling High School, has a great chapter about dialoging and communicating with your teen. That might be something you’re interested in. I’ll link to that as well.
I’ve just been so thankful for how you all have grown this podcast. I want to be sure to say thank you today for listening and for all your positive feedback. I hope you have a great week. I’ll see you next time.
- Episode 81: Communicating with Teenagers - July 1, 2022
- Episode 80: Gena Mayo Shares Her Best Advice for Homeschooling High School - June 17, 2022
- Episode 79: Granting Autonomy to Your Homeschooled Teen - June 3, 2022