Fostering Independence and Self-Directed Learning

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By Katie B.

Teenagers are in a constant state of transition. They are transitioning from children to adults and becoming familiar with all of the different life tools that come with that monumental change. As a parent, one of your most important roles is instilling in them the confidence and independence to thrive in an ever-evolving world once they leave the nest. Encouraging independence and responsibility is a powerful way to help communicate to them that they are ready.

Many homeschooled teens already have a greater sense of responsibility than some of their peers. They may have already even picked up on the incredible value of self-directed learning. However, they can certainly still benefit from a boost towards independence as the learning curve between living at home and striking out on your own can be a fairly steep one.

Encouraging independence and self-directed learning in your teen can be a tricky line to walk. It is important to remain supportive, while gently pushing them to do more and more on their own. Below are some tips and tricks for fostering the invaluable skills of independence and self-confidence that are essential for long-term success in all homeschooled students.

Encourage Self-Directed Learning

One of the easiest places to help your teen start developing independence may well be in the classroom. As a homeschooled student, you and your teen have greater autonomy over what he or she spends time learning about. After the essential reading, writing, and math courses are out of the way, why not allow your students to spend time diving into and learning about a topic they find interesting?

As a parent, it is still up to you to set the boundaries and guidelines associated with self-directed learning. For instance, maybe your student can study whatever topic they want, but they have to present a report on it that incorporates some of their other learning (think science or history) after a certain period of time. This flexibility can give students the feeling that they are in control of their learning and encourage them to pursue topics they are most interested in.

As you encourage self-directed learning, remember that over-studying can be just as negative as under-studying. Focusing too heavily on one topic may lead your student into a state of burnout. Burnout can lead to feelings of lethargy, mood swings, and stress that are uncharacteristic of your teen. Be aware of the signs and symptoms of burnout and help your students recognize them and respond accordingly.

Teach Essential Life Skills

Fostering independence comes in many, many forms — not just in self-directed learning. Parents should also focus on helping their teen develop some of the most essential life skills so that when they head out on their own — to college or wherever — they have the tools they need for success. Some of these skills may seem simple to us as we’ve been doing them for years, but for teens taking them on for the first time can seem like a monumental task.

Some of these skills involve things like learning how to cook basic foods, doing laundry, or managing finances. A few of these tasks can be worked into daily school lessons such as teaching personal finance and money management as part of a greater unit on economics. When you feel your teen is ready, give them the responsibility of managing their own checking or savings account and allow them to save and spend the money they earn how they wish.

Your teen will also need to learn some of the most essential soft life skills such as time management and difficult decision-making. These skills will take time to develop and mistakes will happen, it is all part of growing up. Help them develop a realistic schedule to manage their time and work with them to evaluate all of the possible outcomes of their different plans.

For better or worse, not all of the skills will be easy to teach and it is almost certain that your teen will bend the rules and push the boundaries you’ve set. In these situations, you must hold them responsible for their actions and apply consequences. This might be stripping away privileges or allowing them to fail at something; they are hard life lessons, but important ones to learn.

The Balance of Productivity and Self-Care

Developing independence and leaving the nest is a big and exciting step, and there are sure to be many ups and downs. However, if you help them build a sustainable and nurturing routine early, they’ll be more likely to be able to prioritize self-care while staying productive. more productive in the long-term. Making time for activities like sleep, regular exercise, a good breakfast, and interactions with friends and family are great examples of things that boost both mental health and productivity.

However, they are going to have difficult times, there is no doubt about it. When they happen, maybe your teen will lean on another skill you can teach them, the value of self-care. Taking time for oneself and placing value on your personal mental health can provide hundreds of lifelong benefits. Likewise, a firm understanding of the steadfast support system they have behind them, to catch them when they fall, will help them get through whatever life throws their way.

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