Letting Go of Control in the Terrible Teen Years

parenting teenagers from difficult beginnings trauma and teenagers Nov 20, 2023

Dear Parent,

There are two vastly different phases to parenting--the first ten years and the second ten years (okay maybe there are three phases with our kids--the third 10 adulting years).  In the first ten years, we spend all of our time teaching, coaching, reminding, supporting, protecting, correcting, ad nauseam.  Our job is creating a foundation for the rest of their lives -- say please and thank you, don't hurt people, brush your teeth, wear a coat in winter, don't wear a coat in summer, take pride in your work, and on and on.  This is their foundation.  We do that for our children.

The second ten years, we must learn to control ourselves and our honed lecturing and reminding skills.  The second ten is all about releasing our control and allowing our teens to learn from their own choices, successes, mistakes, and missteps.

I can hear the gasping now.  My sixteen year old acts eight half the time. How in the world can I release my control to him?  Well, that is the art of parenting an attachment challenged, traumatized teen.  It is an art to progressively release control and let our teens make the mistakes necessary to grow in maturity.  (You can substitute pre-frontal cortex here for maturity, if you like.)  

Few 16-year-old trauma challenged teens can manage the responsibility of driving, for instance. That's okay. Show that you are truly interested in them learning to drive.   Let them know, humorously of-course, that you are particularly invested in giving up your taxi job.  Also, let them know that taking responsibility for managing their rooms, chores, school work, friendships, etc. will show you that they are ready to, dare I say it, drive.  

That's why it is important to give up reminding, cajoling, lecturing, coaching, and insisting the way you might have in the first ten years. He knows. She knows. They know. Teenagers know everything.  Let her prove herself and let her fall on her face, too.  He might be twenty-two before he is close to ready to drive, but it is his responsibility to show you he can manage self-care, personal responsibilities, commitments, etc.   By releasing control, you say, I believe you can do it...show me.  Through this process, teens learn that freedom, access, and privilege are directly correlated with their own actions.  

Remember, I said second ten because that is how long you have to practice progressively releasing control for them to get to responsible adulthood.  I am not going to scare you here with talk about the third ten years.  Baby steps.

It takes a lot of faith to begin to release control.

Remember, your love matters!

Ce Eshelman, LMFT

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