5 Tips for Parenting Adolescents: Part 3

In part two we examined how to deal with negativity in one’s adolescent. Part three is about the parent’s need for control and how to make productive adjustments.

1.       Give up Control

·         Not many people would label themselves as ‘controlling’. Certainly not when they can put such acceptable and positive terms to it. “I would do anything to help my son”, “I’m just trying to make sure they don’t get into trouble”, “They never would do their homework or their chores if I didn’t remind them”. “They are so lazy”. “My daughter just won’t let up until I let her stay up late, have the newest this or that, etc.”

·         Control is not always what you think. Sometimes it is the traditional kind, meaning I believe I am helping you by getting you to do or think what I think you should do or think. Sometimes the form of control is so insidious that it looks like the opposite of control. This means that enabling someone, which is permitting someone to do something unhealthy for themselves and then stepping in and preventing them from experiencing the consequences, is also a form of control. Why is this control? Because the message is that I don’t believe you can be responsible for yourself. It says that you can’t make wise choices for yourself and you need me to take care of you. It’s more insidious because it intends to control another while luring them into thinking that they are not being controlled, rather they are being “helped”. Odd how often people end up resenting this type of “help”, isn’t it ?

·         There is a common misconception that control is a normal and necessary part of parenting. This is a confusion of one’s responsibilities to develop, train, educate, discipline and guide a child. The misconception develops because when children are young they need a great deal of direct guidance, which should naturally lessen as the child develops into a fully functioning and self-responsible adult. The adolescent years are that middle stage, in which the child is moving toward adult but is not there yet. They do still need much of the parent’s guidance and influence and as well as discipline and structure, but the form of it needs to evolve in order to grow and expand the child’s capacities to take on these areas for themselves. Thus the need to show respect and to listen and to invite the child into maturity.  

·         Letting go of control involves confronting your unrealistic and sometimes irrational beliefs that your child will mess things up irrevocably or that they can’t succeed without you or maybe that you can’t be okay without them! This last one is about how many parents have formed much of their identity around their parenting role and won’t dare to face the fear and loss that comes with their children becoming independent. Of course the only thing worse than your child leaving you is in this case not leaving you, and not developing maturity.

·         If your child is not succeeding, or has gotten into trouble, this is not the signal that increased control is the solution. If could have something to do with the height of your expectations or a number of other factors. But, if you believe that it is a signal to increase control, it indicates that you really don’t believe in your child’s capacities and abilities or their heart. And that means that either you don’t know them very well, or that you have not developed them as they needed. It doesn’t mean that it’s too late. Hardly! But it does mean you have to face the issue honestly and change your direction, so that you can know their heart and their gifting and so that you can be invested in their development. Also, this may involve repentance on your part. To acknowledge to your child and to God the ways you have not believed in them or invested in them and your intention to do it different.

·         If you have tendencies in either of these directions – to control directly or indirectly – I would recommend addressing the issues in you that are behind this need. This could be an arena in which counseling would be beneficial.  

In part four, we will address how to balance between short and long term goals.


Matt W.  Sandford, LMHC

Licensed Mental Health Counselor


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