The #1 Problem Good Parents Face When Raising Teens

I am a good parent.

I don’t say that as a statement of pride, but more of a confession. Let me explain.

Good parents do the research. They buy the safety version. Put up the baby gates. Say no to that second candy bar.

In the tween and teen years, good parents set the boundaries. They put their kids in the right activities. Offer to be the carpool mom. Brave awkward conversations like “the talk”.

But good parents like you and me have trouble with one thing. And I’m learning that “one thing” proves to be an incredibly important aspect of raising confident, healthy teens.

Good parents don’t have trouble saying “no”–we have trouble saying “yes.”

Good parents have trouble letting go.

In the tween and teen years, good parents set the boundaries. They put their kids in the right activities. Offer to be the carpool mom. Brave awkward conversations like "the talk". But good parents like you and me have trouble with one thing. And I'm learning that "one thing" proves to be an incredibly important aspect of raising confident, healthy teens. Read this… do you agree?

You see, for a really long time we’ve figured out how to successfully create a world where our kids are pretty safe because we hold the reigns. We determine what they eat at each meal. We figure out their fashion choices for them.

We are the gatekeepers, and although it’s not always easy to hold the line, what should be done in each situation is relatively clear (especially as we go through the stages of early parenting multiple times as new children are born).

And then suddenly our babies want cell phones. They want to watch non-PG-rated movies. They want to have sleepovers and text their friends and to talk about dying their hair.

They want to experiment with freedom, and suddenly, we have no idea where to grant or deny that freedom anymore.

It was easy when they were little and wanted to play outside by themselves on a busy street (that’s a no) but now the lines are way more fuzzy.

To make it worse, the things they want to do are scary (“But mom, I just want to take her to a movie”) and the stakes are higher than ever.

What’s a good parent to do? With a 13 year old, an 11-year-old and an 8-year-old currently in my home, I’m learning the answer to that question right now too.

I want to share with you what I’m learning as God guides my husband and I through this process, and encourage you with confidence and hope that yes, you can successfully guide your kids through these sometimes-tricky teen and tween years.

Parenting Teens: Gatekeeping Is No Longer Just Guarding

Parenting is full of gateways–places where we must let the gates to one area open so that our child may be lead out into another.

And yet, this “opening” and “closing” goes directly against every nurturing and protecting parental instinct we’ve developed.

I’m always afraid of opening those gates too soon and of giving too much freedom because I don’t want my kids to believe that my letting go means I’m abandoning them (see? there’s that overactive nurturing drive!).

And of course we parents can imagine every single bad thing that could happen should we choose to open those gates (thanks to that well-developed protection instinct).

However, we must live with the reality that every day our tweens and teens move closer to that moment where they will be completely without our provision and protection. And our job as a parent is to guide our kids along that slow transition from utter dependence to utter independence.

Little by little (and guided by intense prayer and deep discernment), our “good parent” role of provider and protector must make room for a new role: Preparer.

Two years ago, it was very difficult for me to let my always-homeschooled son start going to a Youth Group where I knew none of the kids. Then six months later, I was challenged to let go again as God lead our family to move toward a hybrid homeschooling option where the kids would be taught in a school three days a week.

Both times, anxiety of the unknown filled my heart and I was terrified to let my tweens and teens step into these new roles of freedom.

But looking back now, I see how much my kids have flourished because of these decisions. They’ve grown immensely, and these freedoms have prepared them for the next level of freedoms we’re prayerfully considering for them now.

Accepting New “What Ifs” When Parenting Teens

The “what ifs” are what keep us from opening gates, right? “What if he… ?” “What if she… ”

The “what ifs” are incredibly important protection mechanisms for parents since they help us hold those much-needed boundaries.

And please hear me when I say that “what ifs” are still incredibly important during the tween and teen years because, oh boy, do we still need to hold the lines in many areas!

I just want to challenge you with a different set of “what ifs” that God has been challenging me with lately:

What if it all works out?

What if our kids really do turn out just fine? What if the worst doesn’t happen, and if fact, things turn out even better than planned?

He’s given me Romans 3:20 to pray over my kids:

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”

Yes, our job as parents is to keep our kids safe from those scary “what ifs,” but we also are tasked with trusting in our kids and believing in the work that God is doing in their hearts too.

Consider these truths from Ephesians 1:19 and Jeremiah 29:11 as well:

“I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him.” Ephesians 1:19

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.'” Jeremiah 29:11

These truths keeps me on my knees asking God for guidance, but also for insane courage to believe that the hopes and dreams He has for my kids (which are much greater than mine) can come true!

From Overprotective Fear to Waiting Expectantly

I heard recently about a teen girl whose mom would always check her breath after she’d been with her friends to see if she’d had alcohol. One day the girl finally decided to have a drink “because it seemed like that’s what my mom was expecting me to do.”

That story really hit me hard. This was obviously a well-intentioned mom, but she’d let her fears overshadow her belief that her daughter actually could be trusted, and that choice had let to her daughter making the very choice she’d feared.

That story scares me because I would be that “good parent” that would check for alcohol over and over. I would be that mom that copes with the freedom by obsessively trying to make sure that everything is above board.

What if instead of clinging to control and fear, we shared in His great expectations for our kids and let that also shape our everyday parenting decisions?

It’s not that this “letting go” is done with our heads in the sand, but instead it’s not allowing control and fear to become an idol. It’s about walking forward with our child in the freedom, finding that God-directed balance between trusting a child and periodically verifying that they’re still trustworthy.

Releasing our loved ones to the unknown can be such a frightening place because, as good parents, we can see the dangers in this new freedom. And yet, there are those moments when God (and our child) are saying, “It’s OK. It’s time to let go. Let’s embrace some new freedoms.”

From a Good Parent to a God-Led Parent

I’m praying to be that kind of a “good parent.” I’m praying to know where God is saying “hold the line” and where he’s saying “open the gate.”

God has been so faithful to not only prompt my husband and I about when it’s time to open those gates, but He has been such a gentle, comforting guide to this overprotective mama through the process.

Friend, I know He will faithfully guide your kids (and you!) through this unique journey too.

 

What are you struggling with as you figure out the balance of still being a good parent and allowing your tween or teen to take on new freedoms?

Let’s share in the comments below.  I’d love to hear your thoughts and encouragement too!

 

About Alicia Michelle

As a wife and mom to four passionate kids, Alicia Michelle loves encouraging other moms with practical tips for joy-filled living in everyday life, especially in parenting, marriage, faith and health.Alicia is the owner/editor of Your Vibrant Family; the author of Plan to Be Flexible, The Back to School Survival Manual; and the creator/producer of the "7 Days to a Less Angry Mom Online Video Course,", Christ-Centered Christmas Resources and My Memory Box Organizing System. In addition, she is a monthly contributor for several popular family blogs, including Crosswalk.com.Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Leave a Reply 33 comments

Laurie - August 29, 2016 Reply

The tween, teen, and young adult years of parenting are, by far, the hardest ones we’ve walked with our four children. We’re not done yet, not by a long stretch. It’s a bit disheartening to look back and see the errors we made in our parenting. Rather than be down about those, we are trying to learn from our mistakes.
Reaching out to others is hard, for we all want to be good parents. It’s hard to admit that you’ve erred. It’s hard to see the results of those errors in your children.
Parenting is tough stuff. It’s refining stuff. It’s “I MUST have Jesus stuff.”

    Alicia Michelle - August 30, 2016 Reply

    Oh yes, agreed 100%, Laurie! We can’t expect to do any of this perfectly. But He is there ALWAYS, giving us the must-needed guidance to walk this tricky-but-rewarding path. We can do it through His wisdom and strength!

Kimberly Roberts - August 30, 2016 Reply

Thank you for this beautifully written and inspirational piece of work! Parents need to know that our new friends and confidants may no longer be parents at school, relatives, long-time friends…but that we can find some solace in the camaraderie that social media is providing us.

I needed to read this, and just at this moment exactly. I couldn’t have called anyone I know that could have articulated my feelings like you just did.

Parenting teens and tweens in this fast-changing environment is a little like the wild west! I needed to hear that other “good” parents are out there, trying to navigate through these choppy waters with a little patience, guidance from God, trust in our kids and having the courage to “just say no” to the darn “what-ifs”!

Brandi Raae - August 31, 2016 Reply

Wow. I’ve been going through this phase for a few years now, and it is SO hard!!! My struggle is the exact same – knowing when to let go and when to pull back. When to give freedom and when to set boundaries. Toddler years drain physically, but teen years drain emotionally!!!

My older 2 are both boys (now 17 and 14), so they’ve had each other to go places with and kind keep each other accountable, but, oh my, my 6th grade daughter wanted to start going to youth group at our new church a few weeks ago, and my stomach felt all flip-floppy! Thank goodness we found a friend to go along, too. 🙂

Thanks for writing this post. Helps to know that I’m not alone. And, yes, prayer. Lots of prayer. Blessings on your mom-of-teens journey.

    Alicia Michelle - August 31, 2016 Reply

    Brandi,

    Oh yes… how the teens years drain emotionally. I too have boys that are close together in age and are basically getting their freedoms at around the same time so that does help (and make it more complicated too sometimes!). But I feel you about my daughter… she’s going to be experiencing it by herself, although she (like your daughter) has older brothers that she’s watched go through a lot of it.

    Blessings to you too on this journey! We CAN get through it with God’s direction and wisdom! Lots of prayer!

Carlie - August 31, 2016 Reply

‘From a good parent to a God-led parent.’ Yes, that’s what I want to be. As a parent of a tween and a teen, I’m finding dependence on God to be the only way. Thanks for your encouraging post and your reminder to trust God’s plans for our kids.

    Alicia Michelle - August 31, 2016 Reply

    Hi Carlie!

    Thank you! I appreciate your feedback. It’s been so good to hear about all the other parents going through the same thing–wanting to protect our kids, but also knowing that GREAT things can come when we (in wisdom) open up those boundaries. Bless you as you seek Him in your parenting!

Elizabeth - August 31, 2016 Reply

You are SO right! I have the same struggle as well. My oldest is 18 and leaves tomorrow to study abroad for 9 months. I’m trying to figure out a way to not let him go!! But isn’t that the whole point? Don’t we work so hard to raise them well so they WILL go out into the world and be great people? Still, it’s hard and it hurts our momma hearts. The worst part is knowing I have to do this letting go thing 7 more times! (Yep, I got 8 kids!)

    Alicia Michelle - September 2, 2016 Reply

    Hi Elizabeth! Oh man… letting go is so hard!!! Agreed! But I love what you said: “Don’t we work so hard to raise them well so they WILL go out in to the world and be great people?” Well put! Thank you so much for sharing here!

Mother of 3 - September 1, 2016 Reply

I have a soon to be 9 year old a 10 year old and a 12 year old so we’re getting into this territory and it’s so HARD! But I find I have to bite back my instinct to say no, take a deep breath and say yes, we can try that and see how it works out. It’s scary but I have to have faith that I’ve raised my kids right and together we can figure out what they are capable of.

    Alicia Michelle - September 2, 2016 Reply

    Yes, yes, yes!! So true. We have to figure out together, step-by-step, what our kids are capable of! Thanks for sharing!

delloraine - September 2, 2016 Reply

You are right on track and learned this lesson sooner than I did. My girls will be 18 & 21 at the end of the year and learning to take risks is so important to being a successful well rounded adult. The challenges of first jobs and college in the real world require it. Supervision is important, but arming your children with the word of God and praying together goes a long way. Communication without judgement is crucial as they become adults. My girls are both Seniors in College and High school and all of our lives are changing as I complete 16 years of Homeschooling. My best to you, the next years are a wonderful payoff for all that you have done so far.

    Alicia Michelle - September 2, 2016 Reply

    I love all that you’ve written here. So much great wisdom… thank you for encouraging me!! And, yes, I love how the next years CAN be a “wonderful payoff for all that we’ve done so far.” We don’t have to dread these years! Blessings to you!

Catherine - September 2, 2016 Reply

Hi Alecia
Well thought out post…as a parent of a 19 yr old and a 14 yr old….yes, I’m in the middle of it. Granting the freedoms as they get older can be scary. I try to remember that we are raising them to be independent. Teaching them how to be grown up.
Last year my 19yr old decided to live at home while he goes to university instead of the dorms. This lets me know that he has enough freedom here at home. Life goes in phases, and we have to move through each phase. Trying to hold on to the previous phase simply won’t work.
Thanks for this insightful article.

    Alicia Michelle - September 2, 2016 Reply

    Catherine, thank you for sharing your story. It’s been so encouraging for me to read all the feedback on this post because I hear how there are so many other parents who feel the same way. And yes, how awesome that your 19-year-old is willing to live at home during this time (you are obviously doing something right)! Love what you said here: “Life goes in phases, and we have to move through each phase.” Thank you for your insights!

Sharing Some Of The Best: August's Monday Madness Link Parties - September 3, 2016 Reply

[…] you are a new parent you know about the terrible two’s, no one dares to mention parenting teens. It isn’t always that bad but they can have their moment or […]

Lisa/Syncopated Mama - September 6, 2016 Reply

This is a great post – I remember being frustrated as a teen myself that my parents were so overprotective – I was more conservative they they were and yet they still had to have that control. I’m hopeful that I can remember this when my daughter gets older! Thanks for joining us at #FridayFrivolity!

    Alicia Michelle - September 6, 2016 Reply

    Hi Lisa!

    Thanks so much! I agree… I’m trying to remember my teen years more clearly so that I can help navigate my teens through these tricky years. Thanks for stopping by!

Pat - September 6, 2016 Reply

Love this post…it rings so true!
Even after having 2 get through these years (at 29 and 27) I still struggle with letting go of my 17 and 15 year olds. Guess that’s always a process…
So grateful that He is always the perfect parent we can run to and learn from 🙂
Thanks for sharing this at Coffee and Conversation last week, Alicia. We’ll be featuring it at tomorrow’s party!!

Thoughtful Thursdays: Have Mercy on Us! - Creative K Kids - September 8, 2016 Reply

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Aimee - September 8, 2016 Reply

A God-led parent. Yup, that’s what I am! I’ve learned that there is only so much I can do as a parent and then everything else – or most everything – is beyond my control. But not God’s control. Thanks for linking up with Grace and Truth, Alicia! Always a joy!

    Alicia Michelle - September 10, 2016 Reply

    Hi Aimee! Thank you so much! Yes… discovering how to be a “god-led parent” is an ongoing daily walk with Him, isn’t it? Thank you for stopping by… so appreciate your ministry at Grace and Truth!

Bec - September 15, 2016 Reply

Great post – it is hought provoking – especially ‘what if it all goes right’ it’s hard to get that balance – and hard to know exactly the right time – thank you.

Tired - October 20, 2016 Reply

As a parent with a chronic illness, I miss out a lot and feel guilty. I’m trying to set boundaries with my 15 and 13 year old. I’m clueless even how to start…I’m overprotective and when I feel good, I try and make up for lost time…my husband doesn’t seem to want to be involved in boundary setting…

Lauren smith - November 1, 2016 Reply

Not directed at the author or anything… up the first thing that grabbed my attention (because I see it in real life with many “good” parents) is the controlling mindset. I see so many parents who say “no” over little things all.the.time-like the food choices, the clothes, etc- and they are so used to taking away these little freeedoms that once the kids are grown the kids go too far because they essentially never had a childhood. I know that may be taking it out of context but I’ve seen it first hand with parents that now have grown kids who are making bad choices and the parents keep talking about how stressful it is because they don’t have control like when they are little.

My kids are still young (7, 5, and 2) and I’ve always parented a lot differently than the type I mentioned. While I do have limits, my kids have a lot more freedom then most their age. Bed time is negotiable, meals can consist of whatever I keep in the house, etc. I limit what can be available (that we own) but they pick a lot of the “what’s” and “when’s”. We are very att at home,ent parenting and unschooly if you’ve heard of the terms. Sometimes they make bad choices and I try to guide them before, during, and after. But I’ve already realized I can’t take their God given free will away. I think some parents rely too heavily on controlling actions and consequences to feel secure, instead of focusing on relationship and guidance. And it can lead to a lot of these problems.

If you look at kids these days, most of their days are controlled. They practically have no childhood anymore with the majority of their day scheduled and laid out for them. We need to make efforts in going against the grain in our society to bring back our kids childhoods so they aren’t trying to live it up as young adults to make up for lost time. We need to focus more are being with our kids more than their peers. Because when they don’t spend enough time with us, they will attatch to peers instead and give in to peer pressure. Most families are rushed for school and work in the morning, separated during the day, rushed in the evening for chores, food, homework, extra curricular activities, then rushed off to bed to start it all over.

I’ve made the conscious decision to simplify our life as much as possible so we can just LIVE and BE. We have freedom and make choices each day, so it’s easy as they grow. For example, I know moms who cry when their kids start doing things that one or the other isn’t ready for. I’ve never encountered that problem because we’ve transitioned naturally by utilizing trust and xommmunication. When our kids weaned, over into their own beds, rode their first bikes, took off around the block on their own- it was no big deal because we both knew it was time because we actually have a strong relationship.

Other parents I know who have parented this way who have o,dear kids actually love being with their teens so it’s inspirational to me. They seem to avoid the rebellious teen/Young adult stage altogether.

    Alicia Michelle - November 7, 2016 Reply

    Thank you so much for taking the time you share. You raise some excellent points here! Thank you!

Tracey - January 9, 2017 Reply

Finding this post a little late, but at a great time for me! I have a 16-year-old and a 14-year-old, and we’ve been gradually learning these lessons ourselves as parents. I love the thought of approaching these transitions with positive thoughts in mind, rather than thinking of all the potential negative outcomes. So thankful for a God who guides us and promises His wisdom for each stage of our parenting!

    Alicia Michelle - January 10, 2017 Reply

    Yes, so true! When we can approach these transitions positively and believe that God can do great things, it makes such a difference! Thanks for sharing!

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