The adolescent question posed to parents typically sounds something this: “How can I convince you to let me go?”
For example, the specific permission being sought might be a 7th grader who wants to spend Saturday afternoon with friends going to a movie and then “just hanging out” at a large local mall where the theatre is located; or it might be a high school senior who wants to attend her first college party, in the company of her girlfriends.
These are serious requests because what is at stake for both early and late adolescent in each case is older life experience from which to grow. At stake for the parents is whether to allow more freedom that puts their teenager at increased social risk. Hence the question goes to the heart of the ongoing conflict of needs that unfolds between parents and teenager over the course of adolescence. “I can handle it!” insists the eager adolescent. “How can we be sure?” wonder the cautious parents. Their challenge is to structure a relatively safe passage through this request more worldly freedom.
They might consider doing so this way. First, responsibility for this request needs to start with the requestor. The adolescent must operate on two convincing fronts: how the young person is conducting the Relationship with parents, and how she or he states the Proposal for what is being asked.
Parental readiness to give permission for more freedom to their adolescent significantly depends on how the teenager conducts her or his side of the relationship, what I have called elsewhere as honoring “The Freedom Contract.” The six articles of this contract are these:
1) Believability: Parents can count on being given adequate and accurate information.
2) Predictability: Parents can count on promises and agreements being kept.
3) Responsibility: Parents can count on business at home, at school, out in the world being appropriately taken care of.
4) Mutuality: Parents can count on a two-way relationship with them, both giving to and being given to in return.
5) Availability: Parents can count on a willingness to discuss parental concerns when they arise.
6) Civility: Parents can count on communication being managed with courtesy and respect.
When the adolescent has been honoring the provisions of this contract, parents are more likely to give additional freedom; when the teenager has not, they are more often disinclined. Thus if she or he has been lying, not living up to agreements, behaving outside of social rules, has only been interested in self needs, has been unreceptive when parents need to talk, or has been communicating in disrespectful or hurtful ways, a young person reduces her or his chances of getting consent. So the adolescent must keep in mind that part of gaining permission depends on the quality of the ongoing relationship maintained with parents. Of course, “good conduct” does not guarantee their acquiescence; but it does weigh in favor of that outcome.
A request for a serious new freedom needs to be treated as a time for serious discussion, so picking a good time for that, is what the adolescent needs to propose. To be persuasive in such a discussion, there are some components a young person might want to keep in mind.
Be specific (not vague or general) about what it is you are requesting to happen.
Make a persuasive case by reasonably (not emotionally) describing why parents could support your request.
Give a plan for managing the freedom you are requesting that shows you have given the responsibility and risk sides of this venture serious thought.
In foreseeing possible risks that come with this freedom, list precautions you have thought to take.
Cite experiences you have had which show evidence that you have the maturity to take care of yourself in this kind of situation.
Answer all parental questions without impatience, irritation, or defense.
Commit to those arrangements parents propose (that you accept) for their comfort and your safety.
Agree to call should need for help arise, or should circumstances change to discuss arrangements that may need adjusting.
Promise to debrief parents afterwards about what the experience was like and to discuss what you learned about taking care of yourself.
The job of a healthy adolescent is to push for more personal and social freedom to grow. The job of healthy parents is to restrain this push within the interests of safety and responsibility. The job of both parties is to adequately discuss and negotiate each major step toward more independence.
Next week’s entry: Adolescence and Commitment