In a teenager’s decision to do things that most parents object to them doing (drinking alcohol, using drugs, failing classes, having sex, etc.), the teenager is the one with the power. Parents can often control the superficial among young teens: whether they go to school, whether there is alcohol in the house, whether the teen is given money, whether the teen dates or not. But the teenager is still, ultimately, in control about the outcomes – which, let’s face it, are more important.
I spoke with a parent yesterday who was very uncomfortable with this presentation of the parent/teen relationship. Notably, her oldest child is just on the cusp of adolescence. But the power she has to organizing or run his life is almost gone. I think this is primarily hard for her because she has organized and run his life with love and openness and with keeping his best interest in mind for many years now. It’s hard to let go of these children we love because we don’t want to see them hurt.
Here’s the thing. It is easier to let go of power over your child’s life slowly, over time, and while building a relationship of trust and mutual respect than it is to let go quickly, when your child suddenly realizes and claims the power they have over their own life. A similar analogy for younger children is this: it is better to stop spanking, and find more respectful and useful ways of behavior modification over time than it is to stop spanking the day your child decides to fight back physically.
this is a really wonderful post, Karen. This has got to be one of the most painful aspects of parenting … the true inability to completely protect one’s child.
You earlier referenced a book about the parent/teen relationship. I think it is the Parent / Teen Breakthrough: The Relationship Approach. It is excellent, and really hammers home a parent’s inability to keep the teen from engaging in dangerous behavior. The solution it provides is building a relationship with your teen such that openness and honesty are valued, so hopefully your teen will be able to talk about the challenges and temptations offered (engaged?) in their lives. If they do this while they have an adult willing to talk about it all, hopefully they have a safety net to help them come out the other side making wise choices.
We’re all just so danged imperfect!
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