Sooner or later it happens. Children grow up and the time approaches when they will soon be leaving home. Parents must learn to let go and accept their child's growing independence, while still providing guidance and support. Teens must learn self discipline, responsibility and the skills they will need to live in the adult world.

It may be difficult for parents to decide how much freedom to give older teens and what limits to set. Children under 18 years of age are still minors and parents are still legally responsible for them. Even though older teens may seem to be adults, and may think they are adults, guidance and supervision are still necessary. They also still need love, encouragement and support as they spread their wings and test out the adult world.

Teens need to be allowed freedom to make choices and to experience the consequences of the those choices in order to learn responsibility and self discipline. They need to be allowed to assert themselves, try new things and learn new skills. On the other hand, too much freedom can provide too many opportunities for poor choices and mistakes, and may result in serious problems.

Teens are often caught between expectations that they act like adults in some situations, and yet are not allowed to participate in adult situations in others. They may rebel and decide to test out adult behaviors by skipping school, smoking, drinking, using drugs and engaging in sexual activity. They can get into a lot of trouble.

It's important that parents hold teens accountable and allow them to experience the consequences of their choices. When parents rescue or bail out their children from negative consequences, they are not helping their children in the long run. Teens need to learn personal responsibility for their actions. If parents bail out their children whenever they get into trouble, teens learn that their behavior is someone else's responsibility. Teens may continue to make poor choices and behave irresponsibly, believing their parents will continue to rescue them.

When deciding on how much freedom to give teens and what limits to set, parents should consider their teen's abilities and past performance. Teens who have shown responsible behavior, self discipline and make good choices can earn increasing amounts of freedom.

For more information or other questions or comments, call the Trinity Child and Adolescent Program at (515) 574-6596.

This article was written by Pam Lehman, a counselor with the Trinity Recovery Center at Trinity Regional Hospital. Pam has a Master of Science degree in counseling.