Saturday, September 02, 2006

If You Love Them, Set Them Free

Last week I asked about the struggles that arise as teens gain independence and parents must find a way to let go. Many thanks to all the readers who contributed comments. The sheer volume of responses is, I think, an indication of the importance of this issue and the complexities involved.

No single theme dominated your responses. You mentioned a variety of approaches, including the following:
  • Talk a lot with your children. Discuss important life issues. Teach values and skills. Start when they are very young and continue until the teens become convinced you don't know anything anymore. Then you must step back and trust the foundation you built.
  • If they still live under my roof then they must live by my rules.
  • It is important to encourage good behavior in teens, not just to prohibit the bad.
  • Once they move out, young adults have a need to assert their own control.
  • At some point you need to give more control to the teens. Several respondents mentioned a message like, "That is not what I would do but it's your decision. I'm here for you if you need me."
  • Ban the big no-nos and don't sweat the small stuff.
  • It's not the job of a parent to be a friend.
  • Some parents are tempted to be strict because they fear the child's behavior might reflect poorly on the parents.
  • Being firm and setting limits has a subtext; we love you and we want you to be safe.
  • Parents must show by example, not just tell.
Perhaps the overall message is that letting go can be a difficult struggle, even when parents are mindful of the issues. These difficulties come shining through in the comment from Lisa, who maintains a site called Internet Lovers. Lisa writes:

My kids are 15 1/2 and 17. I've worried all the time about letting my boys go...when is the right time? What if something happens they don't know how to handle? What if they get in with the wrong crowd? God forbid, what if they decide to experiment with drugs? The list is endless.

I feel I've done the best I can at teaching my teens the differences between right and wrong, good and bad. As far as I believe, we instill these traits into them from a very early age. It's been a rocky road for me to let them slowly go over the years. But I grit my teeth and try to show that I have absolute faith in their decisions. I have to trust that I've taught them well, and I have to have faith that they will follow through with that, putting their own unique spin on it.

I say "It's not something I would do, but if that's how you want to do it, then ok, it's up to you." I think this lets them know I'm not keen, but they have a right to do it their own way. If they fall on their faces, they know it happened because of their choice and hopefully learn from it...and it stops me from coming out with "I told you so." Because by twisting the words a little, I didn't lol

Besides the 'typical' teenage changes and angst, and the battle of testosterone going on between my boys during their respective puberties...we haven't done so badly really.

And saying that, I don't think I've ever questioned my own parenting ability more than I have in the past 2 years.

I suspect Lisa's willingness to question her own approach is exactly the strength that allows her to figure out what her boys need most.

Thanks again to everyone for pitching in.


  1. Great choice of answer, Andrew. Do you mind if I add your blog to my bloggy links?

  2. Wow, thanks Andrew. I'm tickled pink to have been the commenter you chose to put up with this post.

    Two things I had planned to mention earlier (but let's face it, my comment was long enough already lol):

    I was always mindful of trying to see my children through the eyes of my neighbours. I didn't want to be a parent that said "My child would NEVER do anything like THAT!" It's tough to think they have their faults or they might be little brats when they're growing up. But if they are, and YOU see it, you're able to help guide it in the right direction for remedy I believe.

    The second was, that several years ago an older lady told me, that "whenever your children are the most difficult to deal with, that's when you need to be there for them most." I've never forgotten it and it's certainly rung true for me on a couple of occasions.

    That's all I wanted to say (yeah I know lol)
    Thanks again for the mention, I appreciate it, and like I said down there somewhere, I'm learning all sorts of things about myself and some of my past through you and your readers. It's all good!