At the end of the last day of school last year, I (Lisa) watched in amusement as the doors to the high school flew open and the kids erupted with their arms raised, yelling the Braveheart battle cry.  "Freeedooommm!"

It appears that war-painted William Wallace's epic passion for freedom lives on in our very own rosy-cheeked offspring.  As our teens experience their first exhilarating rush of freedom, they realize it feels insanely good.  Once they taste it, they want more.  And more.

"It gives me such a sense of power."
People who use drugs or alcohol are seeking a temporary, exhilarating high—often described as the feeling of being able to do things they normally couldn't.  Our kids are getting the same rush, but in a good way.  They're experiencing the thrill of freedom, of being liberated to do things on their own, often for the first time!

Keep in mind that for their whole lives our children have been dependent on us in countless ways.  If your daughter wanted to go to the movies, she had no way to get there without you.  If your son desperately wanted to play on the soccer team, he had to rely on you for the necessary money and transportation.  Even if your daughter simply wanted to talk with a friend about homework, she first had to be sure you didn't need the house phone at that moment.  And if you suddenly did need to make a call, she has to wrap up her conversation. 

You can see why finally being able to do things on their own is such a thrill for our kids.  Look how passionately several teenagers described their relief at no longer being dependent:

  • It took me three years to save up for my car, and now that I have it, I feel so released.  Whenever it's stressful around the house, I just take off and drive, top down, wind blowing, music blaring and everything's better.  I feel sorry for my friends that don't have wheels.  I'll do anything to make sure I've got my own car handy."
  • It gives me such a sense of power to be able to schedule my own time and do what I want" (emphasis ours).
  • There was such tension building up inside me before I got my license, like I was ready to explode from having to depend on someone else to get me places.  I'm much more relaxed now.

"I felt like a real person."
Freedom not only gives your child the powerful relief of no longer being dependent, it also gives him the thrill of being an independent agent out there in the world as his own person, without having life filtered through you as the middleman.  Consider this revealing comment:  "When I finally got my own cell phone, everything changed.  I felt like a person, suddenly connected directly to my friends and the world through phone calls and text messages.  I can't imagine living without that."

Once a kid enjoys the entrancing feeling of being a "real person," you can see how scary it would be to think of losing that feeling.

"I should be able to make my own decisions."
Kids who begin to feel they don't need a physical middleman anymore (a.k.a. Mom or Dad) quickly begin to resist and resent being controlled by that middleman as well.  Look at the telling way one teen describes this frustration:

It makes me mad when my parents try to control who I talk to at night on the cell phone.  I mean, if I'm keeping my grades up, why should they care if I stay up late talking and lose a little sleep?  I have to keep up with my friends, or I go nuts.  The decision should be up to me.

The Five Facts of Freedom

When we see our teens pushing the independence envelope, taking foolish risks, evading straight answers, or breaking rules, we often chalk it up to peer pressure, media influence, and even rebellion—and we come down hard.  Sometimes, obviously, there is a rebellious heart that needs to be dealt with, and lowering the boom may be necessary.  But if we can spot the much more common signs of a spirit that is simply straining for a healthy freedom (albeit imperfectly), we can guide our child's quest in ways that are healthy instead of counterproductive—helping them learn responsibility instead of triggering their sense of desperation.