Our children eventually grow up and take responsibility for their own life – but when does that actually happen? When does our teen become an adult?
When is your Teen old enough to be an Adult?
One of the most helpful things I’ve learnt in terms of parenting a teen is the different spheres of maturity*. We all mature physically, legally and morally:
- We don’t have a lot of control over our maturing physically though it is affected by our nutrition but we reach a certain age (I think 21) when we stop growing – we are mature physically.
- The law of our land defines legal maturity and in Australia this is seen as 18.
- Moral maturity is the ability to make moral choices independent of an authority figure. To be honest we are all growing morally – so there is no real complete date – but our children do come to a place where they can make good moral choices and be responsible for their morality.
This is important for parents to understand because it helps us transition from a parent who is responsible for our children to a parent who lets their older teens be responsible for their own life and decisions. The question is when do we make this shift? Do we wait till they stop growing physically – around 21? Do we trust the law of the land to decide, making it 18? Or do we look for moral maturity and let that be our indicator?
From my experience it is a balance of all three. There really is no cut and dry in any aspect of our parenting – and growing teens moving into adulthood is no different.
Parenting is all about transitions – as our kids grow, it is a gradual thing, though we often notice the change suddenly, or all at once. Reality is our kids gradually move from immaturity to maturity – this is a transition. We need to transition our parenting at the same rate: we need to move from parenting with authority to parenting by influence, to parenting as a mentor/guide, to parenting as a friend. As our children grow older we step further aside, further back and make less and less decisions and let them be self-governing – in all areas of their life.
The trick is – when do we know to let them go? When do we let them make decisions on their own? And an even bigger question for parents to answer – what do we do when they make choices we don’t agree with? Does that prove they aren’t ready to make their own choices?
Actually this point is a big one to consider because we often use that as a measuring stick for readiness – if they can make the ‘right’ choice then they are mature enough to make choices. If we take that logic and apply it to our own life where would we be? Do you, as an adult, make your own choices? Do you sometimes make wrong choices? Why then should people see you as an adult? You see, we don’t remove the freedom to make choices from adults who make poor choices (well, we do when a crime is involved – but you get what I mean.). When adults make poor choices we offer forgiveness, grace, and love – even as they have to walk through the consequences of their choices.
So how do we transfer this idea to our parenting and in particular how do we help our teens transfer from being our responsibility to being responsible for themselves, and how do we do that in a timely manner so that they don’t get frustrated.
I am reminded of another concept** I learnt:
When our kids are allowed to do something bigger than their level of self-control they are frustrated –
When our kids are limited even though they can do something they are frustrated –
When our kids are allowed to do things that are consistent with their level of self-control (their ability to make moral choices) – they have developmental harmony – meaning they are at peace and are able to continue to grow.
This sequence of thoughts applies to our older kids as much as it does to our toddlers. By limiting our kids from moving into self-governing we are setting them up for frustration. The best way to help our kids reach this level of maturity is to keep all spheres – physical, legal and moral – roughly in line with each other.
So is there an answer to the question – When is your teen old enough to be an adult? I don’t know that there is a clear cut answer – but in our family we have gone for 18. At 18 we expect our children to be self-governing. They are still learning, still growing, still making mistakes, and yet very capable of making wise choices. But the important thing is they are making their choices and they are responsible for the outcomes and consequences of their choices. This is adulating.
*Childwise, Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo
**Babywise II, Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo
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