It is a dilemma all parents face. When are children old enough to start making decisions for themselves, and how much independence should they be given? In the past, Hong Kong's conservative nature and traditional family values meant parents controlled their children's lives for much longer than in the West. When Ng Hau-wo's six daughters were growing up in the 1980s, they were not allowed to go out with friends until they had finished secondary school. But Ms Ng recognises times have changed. 'I was conservative,' she says. 'Kids are now smarter and mothers more open-minded.' Today children also mature earlier. Psychologists say that between 10 and 12 years old, youngsters begin to yearn for freedom. Becky, 15, says: 'Being independent is very important to me. I don't want to be always locked inside my home. It's too boring. I need to go out with a group of friends.' But while her parents allow her out with friends, she is not allowed to have boyfriends or go to parties. 'Adolescents have a natural desire for independence,' says Vivien Chan Cheung Choi-wan, co-ordinator of Baptist University's counselling and development centre. 'They want to be with their friends. This marks a shift from dependence on their parents to their friends.' Jimmy Chan Wing-cheung, former president of the Hong Kong Psychological Society, says: 'They worship freedom. They don't want their parents to intrude on their private life and tend to act against the parents' will. They feel they have a right to do so. 'They have their own ideas and make their own decisions even if it is the wrong decision. They stop accepting their parents' opinions, like choosing their friends or what subjects to take at school.' Ho Wai-man, 50, has three daughters and a son. She allowed her children to go out alone when they were 15, but she makes sure she knows where they are going and what they are doing. 'When I started letting my children go out, I made sure I knew all their friends,' Ms Ho said. 'I have to know their destination. I can't let them just hang around on the streets. They'll tell me they are going to New Town Plaza [in Sha Tin] to shop or watch a movie,' she said. She does not allow her children sleep over with friends and they must be home before 11pm. She is also adamant that her children must not dye their hair. 'I am totally against it. What kind of impression will it make on people?' Ms Ho said. Child psychologist Rachel Poon Mak Shui-wan says that when children become adolescents, they feel they are mature and will fight for the freedom to live their own life. 'A power struggle develops between parents and children. Children will ask: 'Who has the right to tell me what to do?',' she said. 'When children are small, parents can make all the decisions for them. When they grow up, they want to form their own values and attitudes. They challenge established values and absolute authority. They won't yield to their parents' wishes as easily as when they were children,' Ms Poon said. According to Lo Che-wah, a psychologist and father of three, arguments over the amount of freedom an adolescent should have are often due to a lack of communication and understanding between parents and children. He says parents are often busy with work, come home late and are not involved in their children's development. Their main worries in allowing them independence are that their children might be influenced by friends to try sex, drugs, gambling or fall into crime. But if parents spend time building up a good relationship with children at an early age and guide their behaviour, the trust which results will enable parents to give their children more freedom and children to appreciate the rules a parent lays down. Dr Lo's oldest daughter is 14. 'I encourage my daughter to go out with her friends. I won't give her too much money or she might use it in the wrong way. I ask her to keep a record on what she spent with her money. I also want to know what movie she goes to see and who she is watching it with,' he said. 'At 13 or 14, they may be with good or bad friends. Bad friends may lead them into sex and drugs. With good friends, they spend their time in healthier pursuits.' He believes parents need to know what their children are doing. They must educate their children on sex, drugs and morality and teach them to be responsible. 'Parents must invest time in their children,' he said.