Promoting Family Interdependence

The Value of Independence with the Goal of Interdependence

While rugged independence is a cherished national value, our long term goal must be interdependence.  People thrive when they remain connected to each other. Within families. Across generations. Within communities. We need to raise interdependent children.

Interdependence is about healthy mutual reliance. But people need a great deal of personal confidence to be able to allow themselves to be connected to others. For this reason, the confidence earned through increasing independence is a vital first step towards our goal of interdependence. We want our teens to set off on their own journeys, while knowing their goal is to remain connected to family in the long run.

Gaining independence is a central developmental challenge of adolescence. If we think of our children as young birds reliant on us for their survival, we can view teens as having to learn to spread their wings to ultimately fly from the nest. However, we don’t want to be left with an empty nest. We want our children to be “in flight” — comfortable as they soar on their own and confident as they choose to return to the nest for landings.

We honor and foster independence on the road towards interdependence.

We honor and foster independence on the road towards interdependence.

Connecting With Teens — Not Controlling Them

We will be stronger as families, as communities and as a nation when we remain connected and interdependent. We will likely be happier as individuals when our relationships with our children grow far into their adulthood. And when we are able to form close relationships with our grandchildren. Our children will be better off when they are never too old to turn to us for advice. Our grandchildren will benefit from that extra layer of protection that comes from the  loving wisdom grandparents seem to know how to offer better than anybody.

Avoid Installing Control Buttons During Adolescence

So, what is the secret to raising children with an eye towards interdependence? The secret is learning how to balance our teens’ needs for growing independence with our own needs to protect their safety and morality — while preparing them to become successful, independent adults.

We must not install control buttons during adolescence. Our children’s developmental imperative is to learn to navigate the world on their own. We have to honor this need, but do so while also assuring that they remain safe and moral. When we overprotect or over-control them, they must reject us because our control flies in the face of their need for growing independence. They will feel an internal force to push us away and therefore choose to keep us at a distance. Similarly, constantly reminding them of the importance of staying connected could push them away. On the other hand, when we prepare them to navigate the world independently, they will see us a valued source of wisdom to draw from now, and throughout their lives.

Imagine how the following thoughts set the tone for a relationship that prioritizes both independence and strong, connected families:

“My job is to raise you to be able to handle the world. I’ll give you more and more responsibilities when I know you can handle them. In the meantime, I’ll watch you carefully to be sure you stay safe and make moral decisions. I’ll do the best I can to be a good role model and guide you when I should. I’ll also let you make most of your own decisions as long as they are within safe boundaries. I’ll celebrate your successes and be there to support you to rebound from your mistakes. We all make them. That’s how we grow. I love you and always will. It’s an honor to watch you become your own person.”

That child will feel comfortable taking flight and will return for frequent landings.

About Ken Ginsburg

Ken Ginsburg, MD, MSEd, is Founding Director of CPTC and Professor of Pediatrics at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. He travels the world speaking to parent, professional, and youth audiences and is the author of 5 award-winning parenting books including a multimedia professional toolkit on “Reaching Teens.” CPTC follows his strength-based philosophy and resilience-building model. For more on Dr. Ginsburg visit

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