Childhood and adolescence entail a steady movement toward independence.
While independence is about autonomy and embracing individuality, it’s also about responsibility and leadership. During adolescence, many youth experience a strong desire to make key decisions about their life. True independence means having the self-discipline and self-control to use, rather than abuse, newfound freedoms.
Youth who have experienced trauma or very difficult circumstances may have a different view of independence.
Imagine if you were forced to grow up much too quickly, as your mentee may have experienced. You might have become largely self-sufficient at a young age and have missed out on many of the joys of childhood. Or you might not have learned how to meet the desire for independence in socially acceptable ways, and act out by bullying or manipulating others. Or you might even shun all opportunities for independence. Keep these possibilities in mind as you spend time with your mentee. Focus on helping her to fulfill the need for independence in positive ways.
Consider these suggestions to help your mentee meet his need for independence.
The following strategies can help you to support your mentee to develop a sense of independence.
- Listen. Many youth struggle to feel accepted by family members, peers, and their community. Listen carefully to what your mentee has to say and show that you value who she is.
- Be persistent! Don’t be surprised if your mentee keeps you at arm’s length until you “pass the test.”
- Broaden your mentee’s experiences. He may have had to grow up fast and take on adult responsibilities before he was ready. Think about what you enjoyed most as a child and share those experiences with your mentee.
- Maintain high expectations. Tell your mentee that you have confidence in her and that you expect she will approach opportunities for independence with self-control, dignity, and respect for others.