“Letting Go” of a Child

by Dr. Leslie (Jack) Fyans

My 15-year-old daughter wants to be more independent. I realize this is a normal part of growing up. However, her father is finding it very hard to “let go” and wants to maintain the same degree of control over her. How can he and I work this out to the satisfaction of all of us?

Your question reflects an age-old family dilemma: How can parents balance their child’s growing need for independence with their fears for their child’s safety? If too much freedom is given too soon, the boundaries children need become invisible or even nonexistent. Yet, too much control can itself become an obstacle to the process of maturing. It is natural for adolescents to seek their freedom; they want to decide where to go, with whom, and for how long. And, it seems, the more freedom they exert, the greater the parents’ fears.

We naturally want our children to grow into responsible adults, capable of making choices faithful to their Christian values. Yet we know some choices might lead to precarious places and partners. I call this the “antler syndrome.” Like a young moose that scratches around with new antlers, making new discoveries—and in the process, sometimes, getting into trouble—so our sons and daughters must explore the world that is opening up to them. At times, this results in rebellion, sadness, and regret. What is a parent to do?

To begin with, consider this universal situation not as a contest of wills but rather as an opportunity for you and your daughter to discover a balance between your letting go of control and her grasping for freedom. This is a matter of sensitive negotiation based on good communication. It is essential that you and your husband agree on how you want to help your daughter navigate through this period and present a united front to her. Talk with her openly about your concerns as parents; be honest about your fears and vulnerabilities, as well as your desires for her. You and she can develop appropriate goals and boundaries, along with agreed-upon consequences when she violates those boundaries. And all parties can hold each other accountable to the promises made. This give-and-take has a double benefit: By your example, your daughter sees open communication as the key to resolving conflict; by acknowledging her needs as a maturing young woman, you earn her respect.

Questions for “Family Counselor” come from readers and, after steps are taken to assure confidentiality, from contacts made with Lutheran Hour Ministries. Send your questions to “Family Counselor,” The Lutheran Witness, 1333 S. Kirkwood Road, St. Louis, MO 63122-7295. Please include your name and address. 

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