One of the Hardest Lessons of Parenting a Teen is Learning to Step Back

Last updated: 07-15-2020

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One of the Hardest Lessons of Parenting a Teen is Learning to Step Back

Hi there. Do me a favor and lean in to what I am about to say to you. I just learned something and I want to share it with you.

One of the hardest lessons for parents to learn – yes I said parents, not your teens – is the art of staying out of it. It is so hard to stay out of it but we must remind ourselves to butt out.

Over the weekend I had to remind myself again and again and again with much angst and a nervous stomach to stay the crap out of their business. It went against every fiber of my maternal mama bear quality to not try and fix it for them. Under my breath, I’d whisper, just stay out of it. Don’t get involved. Let them figure it out. Butt out!

As parents, we’ve already traveled that teenage road full of potholes and soft shoulders. We made it. We’re here. We survived. Our teens are on the same road, but the landscape is different and, in some ways, more complicated. But when you take away the cars, the social media and the texting and driving, it’s still teens figuring out life, relationships, responsibilities, complicated feelings and all of the mess that comes with it.

Do you know how we learned how to deal with all of that stuff when we were their age?

It wasn’t our parents stepping in and having conversations with our friends on our behalf.

It wasn’t our parents shouldering the responsibility that we signed up for.

It wasn’t our parents discussing options with other parents on the best way to avoid hurt feelings.

It wasn’t our parents taking tests for us, going on dates for us, being rejected for us.

It was just US figuring it out and making mistakes and learning from those mistakes.

Now that they’re teenagers, it’s a different type of skinned knee. We had to fall, rub some dirt in it and go again. Learning that the stove is hot and the road is busy, we let go of our parent’s hands and survived. We had to face our fears, loneliness and rejection when we walked through high school doors, navigated the long hall of lockers, sitting in a class with someone who likes you or hates you and you don’t feel the same way about them. The excruciating part of finding a seat at lunch, even when it’s alone.

We all had to do it and we learned – and our kids will too.

It’s so dang hard to think of our kids feeling bad, awkward, experience misunderstandings and miscommunication, being left out, passed over, isolated, but please, please, for the love of your children, be real with yourself and understand that you are not getting the whole story. You are getting the section of the chapter that they want you to read. It’s a paragraph not a whole book and the perspective is limiting. Just like their friends’ parents are studying up on another version entirely.

We cannot fix this for them. Teenagers must learn it for themselves. Conversations are weird. Their friends say and do some things that are wrong and our kids say and do some things that are wrong. They’ll learn. They’ll become adept at figuring out social situations. They’ll learn that they’ll get knocked down – but the more important lesson, is that they’ll get back up.

On their own.

Time heals and every single teenager on this planet grows and learns new lessons.

Step in when they’re in danger. Make the call when this is more than hurt feelings and awkwardness. Give them advice – WHEN THEY ASK FOR IT – and not a moment before, and keep it brief.

I told my husband last night that I didn’t think I was ready for this part of their teenage years. I told him that it was too hard and I’d take a lost pacifier or a late night run for Children’s Tylenol over this mess.

It hurts too much and I can’t fix these boo-boos. I can’t make it all better with a phone call, a note or a hug.

Then, my husband said the sweetest thing I think he’s ever said in almost 19 years of marriage. “You can do this, because you had two of the finest examples of parents – and you turned out just fine – and our kids will too.”

And so will yours…just be quiet while they’re taking the test.

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Eleanor Howard is a mother to two teens – a boy and a girl – and is a writer and bookkeeper. She has worked in some form of Media & Communications her entire working career including serving as Executive Assistant in the radio industry. She has finished her first novel. You can see more of her writing here


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