It begins the day our children take their first step, the search for independence versus our need to protect and guide them in their quest. This can be a physically demanding job, especially during the toddler years. The main goal is to keep them safe while allowing them enough room to investigate. It is relatively easy to remove toddlers from what could potentially be an issue. A simple explanation and placing the child in timeout communicates what is acceptable and what is not. However, it is an exhausting process. The challenge becomes being consistent even when it would be so much easier to give in.

As our children reach puberty, the search for independence becomes less physical, more emotional, and fraught with potentially serious consequences as our children prepare to take responsibility for their own lives. The push for independence is filled with fear and apprehension for the parent and the child.  Unfortunately, the fears our children are experiencing sometimes manifest themselves in aggressive and confrontational ways.

New Freedoms and Responsibilities

Our 16-year-old son had recently received his driver’s license and was experiencing new freedoms and taking on responsibilities with real consequences. It was the end of the school day on a beautiful Friday in spring. Our son burst through the door, dropped his book bag by the back door and yelled, “Hi, Mom!”

He ran upstairs before I could welcome him home. “I’m going over to Kevin’s house!” he shouted. Our son was loudly bounding back down the stairs – all six-foot of him.

I met him at the bottom of the stairs. “No, you’re not,” I calmly replied.

Confused, he looked down at me and asked, “Why not?”

Reality Hits the Fan

“Because, I asked you last week to pick-up your room and asked again earlier this week and it still has not been cleaned. I’m sorry that this might interfere with your plans, but there are half a dozen glasses in your room that belong in the kitchen and food under your bed that even the dog won’t touch. Your room has become a health issue. Please call Kevin and let him know you will be a little late.”

Our son straightened up to his full height. Looming eight inches over me he looked down and demanded, “Ya? Well who’s going to make me?”

Consequences for the Decisions You Make

I did not like where this was going. Our son had never challenged my authority so blatantly before. I understood that it is normal for children to challenge authority. It is how they establish their autonomy. However, his desire for freedom was not in proportion with his ability control his emotions. It was my responsibility to remind my son that the decisions he makes have consequences. I looked him straight in the eyes and said, “You’re right. I cannot pick you up and put you in timeout anymore. But if you walk out that door right now, you will have lost my trust and respect. Is that something you are willing to lose?”

How Important Is Trust and Respect?

I held my breath. Confrontation is never easy. I knew there was a chance that our son would choose not to clean his room. If my trust and respect were not important to him, he might very well walk out the door and the stakes would be even higher. Fortunately, he knew that losing my trust would result in losing the privilege of driving, and experience taught him that was no idle threat. In the end, my trust and respect were important to him. Our son’s shoulders slumped. A look of surrender replaced the overly confident glare. He turned and walked upstairs. “No,” he sighed.

I remembered to breath. “Thank you, my dear. I’m glad you made that choice.”