Parenting gurus talk almost nonstop about creating independent children. From birth, people begin vigorously instilling “independence” in children, to the point where some mothers worry that their toddlers are “too attached”. Then they become teens and a different flavour of panic sets in. Suddenly we wish they were three again because true independence has arrived and it is without attachment.
Teenagers go through two separate but equally important, and complicated phases. Adolescence, and puberty. Often people lump them together but they are separate, and they have different purposes.
Puberty is the physical development where children develop the capacity to reproduce. Adolescence is the mental and emotional process of leaving childhood behind and becoming an adult.
Parenting teens has been perplexing for as long as humans have been around, it is claimed that Socrates once remarked:
“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannise their teachers.”
So despite incessant rumours to the contrary, teenage rebellion is nothing new. However it’s understandably difficult when our previously loveable, easy going kids, turn into raging fireballs, oozing hormones, and chasing the opposite sex.
The situation is even more complicated when children have been forced into independence before they were developmentally ready.
You can not force a child to be independent before they are ready any more than you can force them to walk or talk on the day they are born. You can however, break their attachment to their family, and there are no long term benefits to that.
In the short term, parents may sleep in a bed on their own and not feed their newborn baby at night, but those restful nights won’t last when your teen is out drinking and clubbing.
During the fast and furious teenage-adolescence period children are driven to seek independence. You can not stop an adolescent from finding their own path once they are determined to do it. Furthermore, if you’ve been forcing them into independence since before they were ready, they may well overestimate their ability when it counts most. Additionally they may fail to recognise when they need our guidance and support.
When you consider their complete cognitive inability to navigate situations with adult consequences (sex, driving, access to alcohol and drugs etc) a teenager who has been forced into independence may feel unable to approach their parents. We can not have it both ways. We can not expect children to come to us when they need our advice and support, and yet prematurely and deliberately sever their attachment from birth, in the guise of encouraging independence.
We have children in the knowledge that they require our help, they are completely dependent on us at birth, and for some years afterwards. The current mainstream assumption, that they require us to frantically push them towards independence, if they are to succeed in life, is folly.
It is human nature to seek out independent living, gradually at first, and then rapidly when they enter adolescence. The question is whether they will have your support, or not. Clearly, no matter how children are raised, some inevitably go off the rails, however if we start out fostering attachment, rather than forcing false independence, the odds have to improve somewhat.
The rush for independence is not beneficial to children, and often it simply makes more work and worry for everyone involved. Forcing independence from birth is not only impractical, it is also risky. A better, more logical strategy is to support the gradual increase of freedom and responsibilities, that children naturally seek, whilst ensuring that families have a healthy, trusting bond. Fostering independence has nothing to do with “self soothing” or any other mainstream parenting strategy, and everything to do with natural human initiative. Forcing independence on a baby is absurd when we then turn around and deny it to our teens.