Raising Teens: The Grief and Fear Associated With Letting Go

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There’s a certain sadness that gets stirred up for many parents as children grow into teens. The adolescent years signal a time where teens are more likely to spend more time with friends than family. Teens don’t need their parents as much, and at times the parent-teen relationship can become easily strained.

The adjustment to parenting a teenager can be difficult for many parents. The same child who just a few short years ago said things like, “I want to live with you forever,” is now more likely to say, “I can’t wait to move out.” Even though increased independence is a normal part of growing up, the dramatic shift can still be quite distressing for many parents.

The Temptation to Hold On

It’s normal to want to hold onto to kids as long as possible. After all, it’s a scary world out there and no one wants to see their child subjected to mean people, hard times, or major problems. Some parents try to manage their anxiety by becoming overprotective of their teens. They may do everything they can to keep a teen as child-like as possible, or they may prevent a teen from participating in normal rites of passage – like dating, getting a driver’s license, or getting a job.

Protecting teens too much from the realities of life will do them more harm than good. A teen who has never been allowed to explore the world won’t be prepared for the responsibilities of adulthood.  And trying to prevent a teen from maturing will only will only delay a parent’s emotional distress. Eventually, teens will grow up whether parents want them to or not.

Balance Independence and Guidance

It’s important to strike a balance between offering your teen enough freedom with providing plenty of guidance.

Teens need opportunities to behave independently, even when that means they’ll make a mistake or fail to reach their goals. Watching a teen struggle can be painful but it’s often a necessary part of the learning process.

Deciding when to take a step back and allow your teen to go new places and try new things on her own can be tough.

There are times when you need to step up and establish rules that limit unsafe opportunities and unhealthy choices. But, there are also times to listen to your child when she says, “It’s okay Mom, I’ve got this.”

Deciding how much freedom your child can handle should be an individual decision based on your child’s past behavior. It isn’t about managing your anxiety – it’s about giving your child the amount of responsibility that she’s proven she can handle. Sometimes you may have to allow your child the freedom to do things that cause you to feel nervous, scared, and uneasy.

Read More: How to Know When Your Teen is Ready for More Freedom

Dealing with the Pain of Letting Go

Letting go of your child – even in a methodical manner – can be one of the most loving things you’ll ever do. Although it’s likely to feel uncomfortable at times, it’s good for your child to be able to see you have confidence that she can handle more responsibility.

The key to letting go is finding healthy ways to deal with the pain.

Otherwise, you may be tempted to revert back to trying to prevent your teen from growing up – simply to ease your discomfort. Look for healthy coping strategies to deal with the emotions that will arise when your teen no longer needs – or wants – your involvement in certain areas of her life.

Taking good care of yourself is an important way to deal with these emotions as you let go.  Talk to other parents and seek support around key parenting issues. And have plenty of leisure activities and interests outside of your parenting responsibilities. These healthy coping strategies will make the transition to parenting a teen a little easier.

Read More: 5 Myths About What a Healthy Parent/Teen Relationship Should Look Like

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