Letting Go: a challenging [and continual] process in parenting a teenager into young adulthood
Parenting a teenager into their young adulthood can be considered a constant and gradual process of letting go. Your role as a parent changes as your child ages. When they were a baby and learning to crawl, you likely crawled along on the floor with them. Just like that, parents are tasked with continuing to adjust to the teen’s level in the stages teens grow through. Starting in their tweens and early teens, it is developmentally appropriate and natural that adolescents seek more independence, spend more time in their rooms, turn to their peer group, and tell you fewer details about their day-to-day life. As your teenager ages, your role becomes more of that of a coach or consultant; your teen becomes the pilot [of their life] and you can hopefully be a co-pilot. If a main goal of parenting is to raise a well-adjusted adult who can think for themselves and move out of your home, this end goal starts with lots of little steps toward increasing their independence. Today’s blog entry will cover what to expect, what to do, and how to take care of yourself in the process.
IT’S NORMAL FOR PARENTS TO FEEL:
- a loss of control
- fears for your teenager’s safety
- confusion and/or fear about whether you’re doing the “right thing” or not
- impulses to be a helicopter parent
- frustration at the ineloquence of their ‘adulting’ process
- annoyed, hurt, and/or sad when they want to spend less time with you or the family
- that it was easier when they were little and you could just ‘do everything’ for them
- excitement that you may get more time to do other things you enjoy
- ready for them to leave the nest, in part because their [attitude, messiness, etc] is driving you crazy
HOW TO HELP TEENS LAUNCH:
Give them small step opportunities toward independence: If you look at what age they may be leaving the nest – for college or their own apartment, for example – the confidence building skills are best earned more slowly and over a larger amount of time, generally their late adolescence and early adulthood.
Let them demonstrate responsibility: It can be a helpful incentive for a teen when you ask them to show you some more responsibility (eg, doing chores without prompting, leaving for school on time, etc) before increased privileges are earned. It also can be helpful and important to extend some trust to them and see how they do with it (eg, giving them the opportunity to bring the car home by the time you’ve agreed upon)
Keep an eye out for safety: Even though they may want to run their own life and treat your home like a bed & breakfast, you as the parent(s) still get to set limits. You don’t have to say, “Yes”, to every new experience they want to try. It’s helpful to challenge your comfort zone at least a little bit – as your anxiety may not always be a barometer for what’s safe or not – but it’s also good to assess and set boundaries around questionable requests.
Let them fail: I know, this is the worst, BUT it is generally better for them to try and fail on their own while they still have you as a safety net. Let them face the natural consequences of their missteps, when possible. As I wrote in my blog on adulting (https://hopeintherapy.com/adulting-how-to-parent-your-teen-in-this-sometimes-very-long-process/ ), they will learn the things at whatever age you stop doing the things for them.
Letting go can be one of the more difficult tasks of parenting, as it can tend to feel like losing control and there can be so many fears that come up with your teen/ young adult explores more. Here are some things to do and/or remember:
Find your own interests, separate from the activities associated with your teen: A lot of your identity may be in child, of course, but letting go will feel less jarring (especially when they’re leaving the nest at age 18+) if you have hobbies, friends, and activities outside of parenting. If you don’t have outside interests currently, it may help to think ahead for what you might enjoy exploring as teen is increasing their independence. Outside relationships and interests can also help role model for your teen what a healthy adult looks like and/or what some balance in life looks like.
Try to cultivate gratitude or gratefulness that they want to take these next steps: When your teen wants to spread their wings, let it affirm that you are raising them to trust themselves, explore their environment, and build their confidence.
Find people to talk to who ‘get it’: Whether a co-parent, friends, family members, other parents of teens, and/or a psychotherapist, it can help to have a support system to bounce ideas off of and to normalize what you may be going through and feeling.
Don’t feel too badly about your wanting to hold on tight: “The days are long but the years are short” comes to mind when considering the time warp it can be with your teen gaining independence and autonomy. It can sometimes feel like they are growing up in the blink of an eye. Don’t beat yourself up for the impulse to helicopter a bit… but try to keep that in check.
FURTHER READING RECOMMENDATIONS:
Find more on helping your teen in the adulting process in my blog entry from earlier this year: https://hopeintherapy.com/adulting-how-to-parent-your-teen-in-this-sometimes-very-long-process/
Want help surviving your teen’s mood swings? Blog entry of mine from a couple years ago: https://hopeintherapy.com/surviving-your-teens-mood-swings/
Another website I like: Grown and Flown Parents (for the later teen years and early 20s) https://grownandflown.com/