Adolescent Self-Management for a Successful Independence

Graduate your high school senior with basic skills for self-reliance

Posted Mar 02, 2015

Carl Pickhardt Ph.D.
"What do you mean 'inconsistent'? All I'm asking is for you to act grown up and remember you're still a child!"
Source: Carl Pickhardt Ph.D.

It’s a common concern of parents: “What’s the most important goal when parenting an older adolescent in high school?”

In addition to remaining well-connected (in good communication contact) while adolescence grows them apart, and informing the young person how to safely navigate common dangers that come with acting more grown up, I believe a primary question parents should focus on is this.

“How and when during the short 48 short months of high school can we foster sufficient self-management skills in our teenager so she or he will be able to successfully support the increased independence soon to come?”

For most young people, catching hold of more independence is very challenging to do. Many struggle and lose their footing the first time out. For example, on average, about 50% of freshmen in 4-year colleges fail to graduate (see Journal of College Retention.) From my limited counseling experience, I believe a contributing factor is often the lack of basic self-management skills required to support more social freedom and personal responsibility than young people have known before.

So let me suggest what a few of these life skills for successfully catching hold of more independence might be. What follows is a starter list to consider.

PUNCTUALITY vs Procrastination: the challenge of Accomplishing Tasks on time. Unable to do so, putting off school work to the last minute increases stress and makes completion of assignments harder to do well or even do at all.

BUDGETTING vs Free Spending: the challenge of Managing on One’s Money within one means. Unable to to do so, lack of planning or restraint can lead to loss of needed money to meet ongoing and unexpected expenses.

MAINTENANCE vs Neglect: the challenge of Keeping Healthy for adequate self-care. Unable to do so, shorting oneself on sleep can lead to less resilience and ongoing fatigue that makes making effort harder to do.

MODERATION vs Excess: the challenge of Substance Use without negative consequences. Unable to do so, use of too much alcohol or other recreational drugs can increase the likelihood of damaging or dangerous decision-making

JUDGMENT vs Impulsivity: the challenge of Risk Taking within reasonable limits. Unable to do so, acting without thinking or thinking with one’s feelings can ignore later consequences for the sake of immediate gratification.

SPEAKING UP vs Shutting Up: the challenge of Communication with others. Unable to do so, the incapacity to verbally declare one’s wants, needs, and beliefs can result not only in not being heard, but in not being known.

RESPONSIBILITY vs Denial: the challenge of Accountability for personal decisions. Unable to do so, refusing to own one’s involvement or blaming fault on others can reduce one’s power to directly affect what’s going on.

DISCIPLINE vs Distractibility: the challenge of Persistence through concentration. Unable to do so, the inability to pay sustained attention and maintain focus can make consistency of effort hard to sustain.

ENGAGEMENT vs Escape: the challenge Making Progress with undertakings. Unable to do so, indulging in electronic entertainment to avoid work or meeting other commitments can slow headway down.

COLLABORATION vs Going It Alone: the challenge of Cooperating with Others. Unable to do so, a determined loner can lack the social skills required for working as a group member toward a common goal.

INITIATIVE vs Passivity: The challenge of Directing One’s Life. Unable to do so, always waiting to act until one is acted upon can result in following what is offered instead of leading oneself.

ORGANIZATION vs Confusion: the challenge of Imposing Order. Unable to do so, life can feel chaotic without the capacity to arrange, prioritize, consolidate, and schedule.  

Taking the capitalized capacities, on a scale of 1 (totally present) to 5 (totally missing), no adolescent and probably no adult gets a perfect score, and that is how it should be given a normal distribution of individual differences. This said, if when their teenager begins high school, parents see a 4 or 5 on some of these (subjectively perceived and rated) components of self-management, they might want to foster growth in these areas for the young person’s future good.    

This is where parental detachment and letting go come in, as adolescent detachment from parents and depending on oneself come into play. The self-management handoff might sound something like this.

“We need to get out of the business of seeing you get sufficient sleep; now managing to stay adequately rested is up to you.”

“We need to get out of the business of providing you money on an as-needs basis; it’s time to give you a monthly allotment so you can practice managing routine expenses and making money last.”

“We need to get out of the business of reminding you to get school assignments done on time; we need to let managing class deadlines be your responsibility.” 

No question: letting go is the agony of Detachment Parenting. However, it’s usually better the young person learns these hard self-management lessons while still at home than for the first time after moving out.

This said: most adolescents do not depart parental care into more independence with all necessary self-management skills firmly in place. There is still much to practice and to learn. The young person must assume responsibility for finishing unfinished self-management education at the end. They must parent themselves to complete the job that Mom and Dad, doing their best, have only started.

For more about parenting adolescents, see my book, “SURVIVING YOUR CHILD’S ADOLESCENCE,” (Wiley, 2013.) Information at:

Next week’s entry: Re-clarifying Terms of Conduct at the Start of Adolescence