Freedom and Responsibility: What Changes in High School?–Learning Through Mistakes

In the last post I addressed how children accomplish the developmental tasks of adolescence by attaching to friends. A final component of this development is allowing your teen to learn by making his/her own mistakes.

This is a painful one for most parents, but it’s how true independence is achieved. Think through what it means concretely for you and your child, as I offer some examples.

A fairly easy way to start is with chores. In this chore department, provide ones that begin and end with her. First, of course, she develops ownership, but secondly, and crucially, if she fails, she herself suffers the consequences, which is the structure that you want. Have her do her own laundry, clean her own room, change her own bed, cook for her own guests.  It’s true that her sheets might possibly end up growing unidentifiable fungi–but she’s the one who has to bed down with them.

Now let’s say it’s a more communal chore–like emptying the dishwasher, or making lunches. You can’t force your teen to do these things; the ball’s in her court.  But, if the child hasn’t done them, why don’t you wait until he or she needs you for something–and they will–and then tell them, without malice, that you’ll be happy to oblige, just as soon as X is taken care of.

There are certain things your teen will do that will have external consequences, and you don’t even need to intervene at all, so the best you can do is just butt out. If he refuses to wear a warm coat or boots, if she insists on staying up late on a school night–no one will be sorrier than your teen if you just let the scenario play out. [If you’re still operating as your child’s unsuccessful and very peeved alarm clock, take a look at the following link and peruse some of its suggestions. They might be quite helpful. http://www.huckhouse.org/fromourhouse/Independence.htm]

I see many adolescent girls from religious families in my practice, and the parents are, obviously, concerned about their children’s religious choices–in terms of modesty, praying, attending synagogue, being with the right friends who encourage them spiritually, etc. It is painful to watch your daughter make different selections from those you value so highly, but, you cannot force them to practice as you see fit.

The best advice I have for you is to teach by example. I’ve found that most girls in religious rebellion are really angry with their parents and expressing it this way. If your Shobbos table is an unhappy experience, that’s what you’re teaching, no matter what you preach.

And remember this, too, moms. You are the parent, the siblings are your children. Your daughter shouldn’t need to get married in order to get a break from the housework in her family of origin. The child who overdoes babysitting and housework may have as many issues as the daughter who refuses to help at all.

Through separating from parents, attaching to friends, and learning from their own mistakes, your little babies move from childhood into adolescence–and beyond.


I help adults and adolescents through the particular struggles of our time: tension between couples, parenting frustration, blending new families, separation and divorce, (un)employment, cancer, and loss. When relationships come to an impasse, I use mediation techniques to try to ensure that each party will have his/her needs heard and accounted for in a dignified way. In addition to talking, listening, and reframing, I utilizes the tools of metaphor, active teaching, role-playing, visualization, and hypnotherapy.for families and businesses, as well as in cases of divorce.

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