Adolescents and Balancing Relationships with Their Independence

A mother sits and talks with teenage daughter.

The teen years have a bad rap, normalized for arguing, fighting, and disrespectful behaviors. This is hard on families, relationships, and the teen themselves. We know that the teen years are so much more than that! 

We are meant to explore and learn about ourselves through experiences. Parents have the responsibility to set an appropriate pace for youth to transition from being a dependent child to being an independent and healthy adult. It is important to be intentional in providing opportunities for youth to meet the developmental needs while in the teenage years, while maintaining the connection needed in their relationships.

Let’s start by looking at the different types of independence:

  • Dependence: Requiring someone or something for financial, emotional, or other support to survive.
  • Independence: Free from outside control, not depending on another’s authority and support.
  • Interdependence: The dependence of two or more people or things on one another.

After reviewing the types of independence, parents can then explore, with teenagers what the collective goals of their adolescent years are. Asking specific questions with a supportive approach is a great place to start.

For Example:

  • “What independence are you working towards for after high school?”
  • “How do you feel about where you are in achieving what you consider independence?”
  • “What skills are you needing to practice now and, in the future, to reach your goals?”
  • “What do you need from us to help you transition from an adolescent to an adult?”
  • “What can we do as a family to keep our relationship close while you are becoming more independent?”


These questions can be difficult for many parents, mostly due to personal experiences throughout adolescent years that have left fears or insecurities. Parents need to be aware of these biases and do their best to decrease the influence over the goals. Youth need to see the open support of the parent.

Becoming an Adult while Maintaining a Relationship with Parents

Erik Erikson, a developmental psychologist from the 20th century, felt that the adolescent years are a stage of its own and a transitional time. It is the only developmental stage that includes transition. He theorized that at the end of the adolescent stage the individual is needing to see oneself as a unique and integrated person through fidelity. Fidelity is defined as: faithfulness to a person, a cause, or a belief, demonstrated by continuing loyalty and support. If this transition is not accomplished through fidelity, the individual will leave the stage with confusion over who and what they really are and will need to return to this in order to progress further.

Per the Erik Erikson’s life stages the transition from a dependent child to an adolescent requires the following:

A Hope & Will to Achieve

Purpose to Build Initiative

Competence to Organize

Sense of Self-Control & Adequacy

Faith in Their Environment

Understanding Around How Things Work

It’s important to recognize that complete independence and autonomy is not needed to move into adulthood prepared. In fact, research across many cultures has defined a person’s ability to experience joy and fulfillment in their life to be based on the strength of their connection with others, connection with their purpose, and a feeling of significance. From infancy we, as human beings, are not only in need of food, water, and shelter from the elements. We require affection, nurturing, and care to thrive.

It is vital for families to explore what each person is needing from one another and encourage connection while supporting the establishment of uniqueness that all people need.

Candace Basile, LCSW

Candace Basile, LCSW

Candace is a therapist in our South Jordan Counseling office.

a happy father receives a kiss from his son

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