Parenting teenagers is a tricky process.
I always feel that they parent us, as much as we try our best to be good parents to them. At least, my son has often made me feel that way with his unexpected wisdom. Unexpected, because we just tend to assume certain things of a growing child often as a result of our own pressure and anxiety to do the right thing.
Watching him grow has been a very rewarding experience, as I’ve had the privilege of learning so much in the process. He has taught me that sometimes things are not as difficult to handle as I might fear and that love and logic work best.
This is why there came a point when I felt the need to let go, give up control, so that he could grow.
Being a good parent requires knowing when to push, when to back off, when to help, when to let them make mistakes, then being strong enough to watch them go
Our job, as the parents of a growing teenager, is to ensure that he gradually develops independence, self-confidence and self-esteem, helping him take control of his life. This is neither simple nor natural and takes a lot of ongoing effort.
The thing is, even though he’s growing at a normal pace, physically and emotionally, we often have problems coming to terms with it. After all, wasn’t he the little bundle of joy we brought home what seems like just yesterday? It is as though we’re stuck in a time warp, as we want everything to work out perfectly, yet find it tough to let go.
Why isn’t parenting teenagers easy?
Teen brains as well as adult brains are not always adequately developed to make good decisions consistently. So it is my responsibility to help my son cultivate his decision making skills by alerting him to the risks and teaching him to consider alternatives – all this without passing judgment and threatening.
To do this, I had to give up control
Luckily, there are plenty of parenting psychology books that together, present excellent advice. In fact, I have an example in my own Mother who showed by example that warm supportive and positive communication is the best way to go when it comes parenting teenagers. Keeping the dialog going with our children is a valuable tool to keep them safe while building a positive relationship with them.
Of course, staying in touch as they get busy with their lives can be challenging, but when we find ways to be present, listen to their verbal as well as non verbal cues and respond in a way that shows we care and value their point of view, it takes us closer to them.
Last year, as my son prepared for his twelfth grade exams, I was anxious at the thought that soon, he might possibly be going away to college, studying away from home. I confess I worried about how he would manage on his own. Rather than continue to fret over it and transfer my anxiety to him, I did some conscious reading that gave me the courage to actually speak to him about it.
The first thing I learned was to let go of my own fears and take control of myself
I understood that my son, who would be 18 in a few months, was a separate identity from us.
As one transitions from childhood to adulthood, this independence is critical. Soon he would be taking responsibility for his decisions, his emotions and his behavior, building his choices and values.
I realized I had to allow and facilitate this process. Oh, not easy at all to let go when all I wanted to do was cry at the thought of him living away from home.
Teenagers enjoy the feeling of independence, of being in control of their lives. Isn’t that natural? I knew that if I tried to control this, I would be interfering with that natural process.
So here is why I decided now was the time to give up control
- Control generates resentment at not being allowed to do what comes naturally. I wasn’t going to let that happen. Who wants to get into a power struggle?
- When parents are in control, we prevent our kids from learning responsibility. They never feel sure of themselves. They never feel self-confident. Their self-esteem is low.
- Our goal has always been to build a relationship of trust and understanding with our son and we wanted him to feel safe, secure, loved and stress-free.
- We wanted him to know that our love for him was unconditional
- We wanted him to know that no matter what, he could always share /confess anything with us without the fear of being judged.
- We wanted him to be bold and speak up, knowing he will be heard with respect.
- We wanted him to know he was strong enough to take decisions and that it was okay to make mistakes.
- Research shows that the experience children have with parents reflects in their future relationships. When parents are controlling, the children have a tough time asserting themselves and interacting with those close to them.
I knew some risk taking was involved and looking back at my own growing years, I took strength from the valuable lessons I had learned from my mistakes. How could I deny him that opportunity?
I remember when my son was 6 years old, he was playing at the slippery slide at school. During one of his trips down, he fell and broke his collar bone. No sooner did it heal than he wanted to go right back to it and play. We didn’t stop him. Why come in the way of nature?
We want to protect our kids all the time so they don’t get hurt, but exercising that sort of control would hurt them more. It is far better to feel disappointment and hurt and learn from those situations, emerging stronger and better equipped to deal with life.
Today, he is in college in another city for a five-year dual degree course. Sure I cry because I miss him. But I am pleased to say I opted to control myself, not him, as it is helping him manage his life confidently.
I’d love to know what your thoughts are about parenting teenagers and the issue of control.