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Blog Post

How Much Freedom Should They Have?

Independence has responsibilities

Dear Dr. Fournier:

My 16-year-old granddaughter has been fairly conscientious about grades and homework up until this year. She got her driver’s license back in January and we watched as her A’s and B’s dropped to B’s and C’s by the time she finished the tenth grade. Now she’s a junior and she’s bringing home even lower grades. For example, she brought home a D on an English test and a C- on a Math test (Math is her best subject). I was already worried but then the next day, she brought home an F on a U.S. History quiz! We’ve given her freedom because we know she’s a young adult but I think she’s shirking her responsibilities and is not devoting enough time to her school and homework. What advice can you give us on how to handle this situation?

Mona B. Boise, ID

Dear Mona:

Although the basic question here is about dividing time and responsibilities, there are two issues that need to be addressed:

1. How much freedom should a 16-year-old have?

2. How much time and responsibility should she direct toward homework?


First, let’s look at the issue of independence. As our children - and grandchildren - grow from babies to teens and into adults, our ties to them gradually lengthen to permit new freedoms and independence. This is simply a fact of life.

For infants, toddlers and young children, the ties are short and tight. Parents carefully scrutinize their children’s whereabouts, playmates, bed times and bath times, to name a few important things. The primary focus during the infants, toddlers and young children ages is on the parent-child relationship. As adolescence begins, the child discovers that relationships with others can be very rewarding.

At this time, parents’ ties need to grow longer yet remain firmly attached. Unfortunately, some teens become strongly tied to their new relationships. Approval and acceptance from friends becomes primary and that competes heavily with parental relationships and even school responsibilities. Sixteen has been the age offered by experts in the past as a major turning point for children as their ties continue to lengthen from parents.

Driving adds a new dimension to their lives. Even for the child who does not have a driver’s license, the “Sweet 16” perception of freedom remains. Despite the perception, a 16-year old is not ready for adult responsibilities and privileges. So don’t fall prey to calling your 16-year-old a “young adult.” Think instead of her as an “old kid” who still needs parental guidance and is still developing her sense of responsibility.

The second issue is also important: How much time and responsibility should she direct toward homework? Some children can do tasks in less time than we adults would anticipate. The key here is not the amount of time, but the results that are produced. Helping your 16-year-old become responsible for learning is far more important than clocking the hours she spends on assignments. Focus instead on her responsibility for results, and even shorter amounts of time will be better spent.



Mona, establish a system that will help you know when to pull on your parental ties to give your “old kid” guidance.

Once a week, set aside a time with her to go over her grades. A 16-year-old should be able to present you with her weekly class averages and the grades that produced these averages. If she has a low grade, she should have a strategy for bringing up her average in an effort to negate the low grade and produce success in the class or subject. She should also answer this important question: “How will I take care of this problem this week?”

For example, if your granddaughter made low grades on vocabulary quizzes, her strategy for success could be, “Rather than study the vocabulary words from the book next week, I will separate easy words from hard words. I’ll record the hard words on my iPhone, iPod or digital recorder and test myself on them once a day.” By the way parents and grandparents, the technology our children use is not just for playing games, texting and talking to friends. The iPhone, iPod Touch and iPod devices all have applications or features that act as “tape recorders” and are extremely beneficial for educational use, specifically in the example I used in the above paragraph.

Mona, your granddaughter should include in her weekly plan how she will control her new ties to peers, such as driving, or what sounds to me like possible taxi service for her friends.

As a side note, while adolescents probably possess the necessary intellectual skills to make informed choices, they often lack emotional maturity and their social decision-making is often suspect.

There are many scientific studies that support this so your granddaughter is fortunate that she lives in Idaho and can get a driver’s license at age 16. Many states, because of these scientific studies regarding emotional maturity levels and social decision-making, have increased the driving age to 17 and 18. Remember, parental ties are pulled to help children learn to identify problems – school, personal/family, or social – and to set up strategies to overcome those problems. The same kind of responsibility-building techniques certainly can be used with issues of independence.

Parents, help your “old kids” learn to develop relationships with independence. Rigid rules on study time will not necessarily give parents the results they hope for. Good grades are great but of little long-term value if your child doesn’t learn how to be in control of her own life.

More Stories By Dr. Yvonne Fournier

Dr. Yvonne Fournier is Founder and President of Fournier Learning Strategies. Her column, "Hassle-Free Homework" was published by the Scripps Howard News Service for 20 years. She has been a pharmacist, public health administrator, demographer and entrepreneur. Dr. Fournier, arguably one of the most prolific of educators and child advocates in America today, has followed her own roadmap, calling not just for change or improvement in education but for an entirely new model.

She remains one of the most controversial opponents of the current education system in America.