Preparing your child for independence

By: SIMON MBURU

When Yvonne Cheruiyot’s son turned 13, she began to watch him like a hawk.

“I became his shadow and even installed a dummy CCTV camera to scare him from engaging in mischief at home while I was away. I wanted to know where he was, what he was up to and who he was with, all the time,” says the 38-year-old high school teacher in Kabarnet.

She did all this because she was afraid that if she didn’t, her son would engage in sex or start taking drugs. But when Yvonne’s now 19-year-old son went to university earlier this year, things went haywire.

“He has embraced his newfound freedom by doing the very things I was trying to protect him from – alcohol, drugs and sex. It is heartbreaking. I wonder where I went wrong,” she says.

Many parents are anxious about giving their children some freedom and independence, especially in the pre-teen and teen years, because they worry that their children will abuse that freedom and not make the right life choices.

Events like the ones that have happened in the recent past where teenagers were caught in sex and drinking orgies only serve to scare such parents more. However, Nairobi-based counselling psychologist Ken Munyua says that parents need not worry if they start laying the ground for freedom with responsibility from an early age, as early as age three.

“If your child wants to go out and play with friends or visit a neighbor alone, allow him, but discuss the dos and don’ts and how he should handle himself,” he counsels.

FREEDOM VERSUS CONCERNS

Moreover, according to Stella Wambui, a child therapist based in Nairobi, striking the balance between your child’s freedom and your personal concerns depends on the kind of relationship you have fostered with him.

Additionally, while it is likely that you and your child will disagree about her independence, you need to allow your child to make some mistakes and learn from them along the way.

“Most parents are jittery about when to give their children independence because they don’t want their children to get into risky behaviour. Allow them some freedom and allow them to make mistakes, but be clear about what is right, what isn’t and the dangers that may lurk in the activities they engage in when you allow them to be free,” she says.

Munyua adds that if you inculcate the principles of responsible freedom from an early age, your child will be well-equipped to strike a balance between your expectations and the expectations or pressure from his friends. He will also know which way to go in any given situation.

Amy Tiemann, the author of the book Courageous Parents, Confident Kids: Letting Go So Both Can Grow, advises parents not to give kids blanket permission for activities that require more independence, but to prepare them for freedom through trial runs.

This will give your child the opportunity to do things on his own while fully aware that your support is on sight should he require it.

Trial runs mean that you are quite close to your child, but not directly and constantly supervising her every move.

“Children are safest when they know that the adults in their lives are paying attention to what they are doing and are helpful people to come to with problems. Be a helpful adult by listening without judgment or lecturing,” Tiemann advises.

Wambui adds that if you are overly-authoritative, your child will think that she can’t come to you with her concerns as she tries to exert her independence. On the other hand, according to online parenting portal Raising Children Network, tuning in to your child’s feelings and taking his opinions seriously will give him the confidence and impetus to make good choices as he becomes more independent.

However, your child’s views on the right ways to act might differ from yours. So as you discuss how they should behave when they are independent from you, discuss that people have differing life perspectives. Express your opinions and feelings calmly so that your child can perceive you as easy to talk to.

What if you did not start readying your child for independence early? Well, according to Munyua, the die is not cast; there is still something you can do.

“If your teenager is abusing his newfound independence, it is possible to change that. The secret is to go back to the drawing board and instill discipline. Teach him how to conduct himself at that age and in those independent circumstances,” Munyua says.

However, this shouldn’t be done in a judgmental or reprimanding tone lest it pushes the child further away. Additionally, locking up your child to protect him from harmful influences may not be a good idea.

“Don’t be paranoid. Unrestricted freedom may be harmful, but so is being overprotective,” Munyua says.

SOURCE: DAILY NATION