by Dr. Melanie Ross Mills
Gone are the sippy cups and mid-day naps. No more choosing their outfits and hand-picking their best friends. It feels as if it happened over night, but it’s actually been a 17-year process.
In a recent article written by John M. Grohol, Psy.D., “Want to Control Your Teens? Don’t,” he states, “new research suggests that efforts to over-control one’s teenagers may backfire and end up reinforcing the exact behaviors they are trying to control (usually sexually oriented behaviors). In a comparative survey of nearly 5,000 teens, the research discovered certain family and parental behaviors were correlated with certain types of sexual activities. Children seemed to be less sexually active if their parents did not engage in ‘negative and psychologically controlling behaviors.’”
Sexuality is just one area that teens are trying to navigate. In addition, they’re trying to separate from their parents. This is called “developmental individuating.” Teens need the freedom to make more and more decisions for themselves. But this is not easy for parents.
Letting go will be one of the most difficult processes you’ve experienced as a parent. You’ve poured your heart and soul into this child for the past 17 years, so it’s hard to ease up. However, you can rest knowing that you’ve taught them right and wrong. They know what you believe and what’s important to you. It’s now time for them to be given the opportunity to make some decisions on their own. (Key word being “some” decisions, not all.)
This can be challenging when you know that your teen’s brain isn’t fully developed until the mid-20’s. At times, you witness unwise choices and immature responses. How can you let go? The key to letting go is to do so in stages. As they’re proving themselves responsible, you can let out the rope. As they show unwise choices and behavior that’s not in keeping with your family value system, you pull back some freedoms. And this cycle continues.
As the parent of a teen, you have two choices. You can hold on tighter, which creates a false illusion that you have more control than you actually do. Or, you can accept that your teen needs to separate for their personal growth and maturing. Understanding your teen’s phase in life can help not only your emotions and responses, it can also help your relationship with your child.
SUGGESTIONS TO HELP TEENS SEPARATE
1) Give them opportunities to succeed and to fail.
From setting up a bank account with an allowance to not bringing them the lunch they forgot.
2) Help them self-regulate with personal accountability.
Continue to pay attention to their friend groups and choices. Watch how they spend their time. They still need your influence and direction, but you don’t have to hover like you used to. They know what’s right and what’s wrong according to your family values. They know your expectations and standards. Continue to enforce your boundaries while you give them the freedom to make choices.
3) Move from trainer to influencer.
You’re moving from training to coaching/influencing. You’re moving into encouraging and sharing. Open discussion and dialogue will let them know that you respect where they’re coming from. Make suggestions instead of demands. (Try not to freak out if their perspective shocks you. How you respond will tell them if they can continue to be honest and open with you.)
4) Form your mom support group.
Gather a small group of safe friends who understand the life of teens. Mom friends who are wise, trustworthy, and caring make a great team. Steer clear of those who wrestle with comparison and competition.
5) Make the parenting shift.
Accept and embrace the process of letting go. As a parent you might feel that it’s your responsibility to “make” your child turn into the person you want them to become. The reality is it’s up to them to become who they want to be. It’s now up to them to make choices that align with their own future goals, desires, and wants.
6) Be intentional.
Guard your family dinners, traditions, and routines that matter to you. Continue to take advantage of alone time with your teen. Your teen will always need to feel their value in
the family unit. This provides stability and security for them as they spread their wings.
7) Don’t forget to laugh.
Although it can be an intense and stressful time during the process of letting go, it can also be fun, enjoyable, and memorable. Look for moments to interject humor. Don’t forget to breath and laugh.