Your teen is getting ready to venture out into the boarding school world. Encouraging independence in your teen will help them be prepared for their new responsibilities. Here’s how to do just that.
Research shows that independence, or agency, is one of the most important contributors to success and happiness. It is a predictor for almost all the positive outcomes that we want for our kids – better wellbeing, lower stress, better health, increased longevity, greater career success and even lower use of drugs and alcohol.
At boarding school, your teen gets the chance to explore their independence. They’ll be responsible for organising themselves and their belongings, keeping their room clean, getting to class and extracurricular activities on time and just generally keeping their lives together. And while this is a great opportunity for them, it can also be overwhelming.
Of course, they’ll have support, but not in the same way they’ll have at home. So, now is a great time to get them ready for this increased independence. Here’s how.
Hand over decision-making power (within limits!)
Getting our teens ready for making good decisions by letting them make decisions seems counter-intuitive. But the best thing we can do for our teens is to give them some decision-making power in their own lives. This doesn’t mean becoming permissive or disengaged. Instead, we should involve our teens in making decisions while they’re still at home. This could be establishing some family rules, working out compromises around time with friends or managing their increasing school load. This can be a lot of work, but while your teen is still at home it’s the perfect time to support them in making good decisions.
Explain, explore and empower
Supporting your teen to make good decisions is doable by utilising the three Es of Effective Discipline – explain, explore and empower.
First, explain the risks and consequences of the choices to your teen. Discuss some of the things you feel they’re ready for, such as caring for their things, and some of the things they’re not, such as unsupervised parties. Let your teen express their feelings, too. The more two-way communication you have the more chance that your teen will feel confident to make smart decisions.
Second, explore the issues with your child. Help them to recognise new responsibilities that they’re ready to take on, and work with them to build the confidence to give it a go. And if they feel strongly they are ready for something that you don’t agree with, discuss their reasons why. Try to understand their feelings. Empathy and perspective will help you see their point of view.
Third, empower your teen to make good choices by working together to find solutions. How late should they be staying up at night? When is the best time to get homework done? Brainstorm solutions that have the effect of encouraging independence in your teen and helps them to make good choices.
Let them make mistakes
Of course, once kids are given the freedom to make their own independent decisions, they are going to make mistakes. Facing the consequences of those mistakes, though upsetting, will teach your child responsibility. After all, that’s where we find learning and growth.
When your teens make a mistake, allow the natural consequence. If they forget to do their homework the night before it’s due, let them get the bad mark, or face the disappointment of the teacher. These lessons will be more memorable and teach greater responsibility, than if you had intervened and forced them to finish their homework on time. And they’ll be able to take these important lessons with them as they begin their journey as a boarder.
Encouraging independence in your teen while they’re in your home, will empower them to make good choices when they’re at their boarding school and out in the world generally. They’ll trust themselves. They’ll know they have the ability to make good choices. And they’ll be empowered to do just that.
Article by Dr Justin Coulson, Happy Families
If you’re thinking of boarding school in the next couple of years and are keen to talk to representatives at the schools on your shortlist, book an interview online before the end of Term 4.