The adolescent years can be such a trying stage – not just for teens, but also for us parents. During these sensitive and awkward years, our teens experience tumultuous changes on all fronts, their bodies often eager to charge forward like a new Ferrari, but their pre-frontal cortex (in charge of most of their reasoning, planning and impulse control behaviours) is playing catch-up.
For every teen revving through this exciting wave of development, there is a parent clutching on to the roof handle and hanging on for dear life. Excited as we are watching our child growing to become their own person, and figuring out who they are as an individual, we are also holding our breath and questioning: Have we done enough? Will they sink or will they soar?
Coupled with the rising tensions at home as parent and teen wrestle to be in the driver’s seat, it is not surprising to see why teenhood is often deemed the most difficult years since the terrible twos.
Letting go of my emerging teen has been one of the hardest lesson for me as a mum – particularly since she entered Secondary One this year. I find myself often caught off guard by the inner conflict between my heart and my mind. Every so often, I ding-dong between wanting to keep my daughter close to me and releasing her to fly.
But I tell myself that I am not alone with such feelings.
Even parents with the best intentions have wrestled with letting go of their teens.
Author Gary Chapman in his book, Things I wish I’d Known Before My child Became A Teenager, writes, “I wish I’d known that the urge for independence is a good thing, not a bad thing, and that as a parent I needed to cooperate with and guide the process.”
While we may know in our heads that a teen’s quest for autonomy and independence is a good thing, it doesn’t make it an easy thing to accept, in our hearts. After all, we have always been the ones shielding and protecting our children from harm, and making decisions that are in their best interest.
In the midst of navigating this transition, two things have been helpful: One, recognising that letting go is a gradual process. Two, adjusting the way I parent and learning to be a coach to my growing teen.
In moments when they fail, allow them to bear the consequences of their mistakes and use them as teachable moments.
By reframing letting go to letting (him/her) grow, parents can shift their perspective from, “I am losing my child” to ”I am getting my tween ready to be a mature and independent young person.”
Letting go doesn’t mean we hand over the reins of control to our child and relinquish our parental role immediately. Instead, it involves a gradual, intentional process of giving them opportunities to take on increasing responsibilities.
We can start our teen by allowing them to make small decisions like meals, wardrobe choices, room decoration, or weekend activities. As they show their responsibility and gain your trust, allow them to take on bigger decisions and be prepared to negotiate and make compromises when they offer their views.
Resist the urge to say no to all their choices and support them as much as possible. Have faith that they will exercise good judgement for themselves. In moments when they fail, allow them to bear the consequences of their mistakes and use them as teachable moments.
We need to learn step back and allow our teens to make the final decision.
When our children are younger, they need more boundaries, discipline and rules to ensure their safety and well-being. But as they develop into teens, parents need to adjust from being a cop to being a coach.
As coaches, we are less directive and more consultative. We can ask questions, offer our views, share our experiences and give options. Even though we can be part of the decision-making process to offer possible solutions or evaluate choices, ultimately we must step back and allow our teens to make the final decision.
Initially, stepping back can be scary. We cannot help but worry that our teens might make mistakes, and hurt themselves.
Yet, we cannot deny the power of learning through the natural consequences of a poor choice or behaviour. As a coach, there’s only so much we can do and it’s up to our teens to own the process and eventual results.
Making every life decision on their behalf is to rob them of the opportunity to learn accountability and critical thinking. And if things don’t turn out well, we may even end up being blamed if we had made the decision on their behalf.
As parents, it’s easy to feel like we’re losing our sweet and innocent child as they go through the challenging teenage years. But if we keep the long-term goal in mind – that is preparing them to be a mature and responsible young person – we will see why letting go is necessary.
Let go to let them grow.
Even flowers take time to grow and bloom, so what more our teens. Let’s keep them rooted with good values and the security of a loving family as their home base. At the same time, take a step back and allow them space to test out their “wings” so they can soar as high as they can.
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