Giving teens ‘space and opportunity’ to be independent helps them thrive according to an educator - here’s 3 top tips to get started

Number three is especially powerful

A group of teenagers outside, smiling
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Teenagers need to be given space and opportunity to develop independence and thrive - an educator shares three ways parents can nurture a sense of agency in their teen.

The reality of raising adolescents can include wondering what to expect when a teenager starts dating, and how to tackle the five most common teenage problems. Young people can even sound like they come from a different planet when they speak, leaving parents desperately trying to decode teenage slang words to get a semblance of what they're saying. 

Educator Clay Drinko understands that teens can be moody, struggling with their emotions while they make the tricky transition into adulthood. He also wants to celebrate the ability this age group has to be capable, focused, and helpful. To nurture these positive qualities however, Drinko wants parents to loosen their grasp and give young people "responsibility, autonomy, and agency."

Speaking to Psychology Today, the educator expanded on what he meant by teens having a sense of agency. In a nutshell, this relates to the four traits of self-regulated goals, optimism, action planning, and self-efficacy. Self-regulated goals require teens to have the ability to make their own decisions, and they need optimism to believe their decisions will impact their future success. 

Action planning relates to planning and working towards their goals once they've been set. Finally, self-efficacy is about having the resilience to overcome obstacles and the determination to reach the set goals. these traits all add up to teens feeling a sense of agency - without this sense of autonomy, young people can feel pessimistic about their future. 

To instil independence and pave the way for teens to have the all-important agency to feel in control of what lays ahead, Drinko has three top tips. 

3 tips to instil agency in teenagers

  1. Tap into their intrinsic drive. Look out for what your teen feels passionately about - if they're trying to be in control of something or a situation, what is it? Why is it important to them? Drinko says "Listen for these intrinsic motivations of the young people in your life and figure out how to give them the space and resources to flex their independence."
  2. Help them set ambitious goals. Don't just set goals with them, help them set ambitious goals and discuss exactly what they need to do to achieve them. Putting goals into motion moves teens from being from static to feeling agency - when forced into action to reach their goals, a sense of independence will follow. Drinko suggests teens "Push themselves to do things they didn’t think possible," adding "Help the young people in your life set ambitious goals, lead with their strengths and interests, and improve their communities to help them shift from ennui to autonomy." 
  3. Expect more from them. This might appear surprising initially, but it actually makes sense. While it's easy to fall into labelling teens with negative stereotypes, Drinko urges parents to notice that they're actually incredibly capable. He said "That’s why I don’t grumble and complain about teens being the worst. I tell the truth: Young people are inspiring and have the energy and motivation to be real change agents." Expect more from them by helping with goal setting and encouragement to dream big. Drinko concludes: "In their lower moments, remind them of their lofty ambitions and help them get unstuck when inevitable obstacles arise."

Young people face more stress and anxiety than ever before. This can easily compound feelings of anxiety and subsequent negative qualities and behaviours that often lead to older generations complaining about 'surly' teens. 

Instead of focusing on unwanted teenage traits,  Drinko concludes "Instead of grumbling about the next generation, it’s our responsibility to allow them the opportunity and the space to flex their autonomy, try things out their way, and intervene only when necessary. They’re the ones with the energy, drive, and motivation to push us forward as a society. The least we could do is give them a little space to practice today while we’re still around to help out. But only when necessary."

If you do feel your teen is part of the anxious generation, experts have advice for protecting their mental health. Is your teen stressed? Don't worry, there are expert ways to guide them through it. For those looking for the best parenting style for teens, reflective parenting could be the way forward.

Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.