Focus on the Family

Letting Go of Your Teen

by Tim Sanford

Your teenager is in the process of moving away from you. Therapists have a term for this: developmental individuating. It means your child is doing the following:

These phrases sound nice and inviting when they crop up on a psy­chology test covering the "developmental theories" chapter. But they don't always sound so positive and gentle when they're lived out in your family room or kitchen.

Still, the theory is right: Your teenager is separating from you and gravitating toward his or her peer group. This process is normal, natu­ral and necessary. Fight it and you'll lose. The solution is to work with it as well as you can — by understanding what's yours to control and what isn't.

They're Moving Out

Think of your son or daughter as traveling down a pathway toward maturity. All teenagers proceed along this journey, though at different speeds. As your teenager leaves the past behind, he or she moves toward the future and the changes it will bring. Let's look at some of those changes and the challenges they offer.

1. Your teenager is moving away from parents and family and toward his or her peer group. This is the "getting ready to leave the nest" process. Most 15-year-­olds can't make it on their own in the adult world yet; they need opportunities to try, "fly solo," fail, practice, scare Mom and fail again. All this trying can be very wearing on us as parents.

Your son or daughter also is connecting with his or her peer group, just as you probably did when you were that age. This is necessary to make life work; after all, these are the people your teenager will work with, work for, lead, follow, vote for, run against, buy from, sell to, marry and bury. Your teen needs to find his or her niche within this group.

This quest is usually just as awkward for the teenager as it is for the parent. It must happen anyway, though. Being aware of it can at least lessen the stress and anxiety it can bring.

2. Your teenager is moving away from dependence on you and toward being independent of you. Notice I didn't say he or she necessarily is becoming responsibly independent. Research indicates your teenager will be dependent on your pocketbook — to some extent — on average until the age of 26.1 This independent­-yet­-dependent stage can be prickly for both parent and young adult, especially when the latter doesn't want your involvement in her life but still needs your financial backing. That explains the bumper sticker I saw recently:



3. Your teenager is moving away from your rules and toward advice or counsel. This is a struggle for many parents. Suggestions don't seem to have as much "bite" as rules do. Parents feel more powerful trying to enforce regulations than when they're simply giving advice, though the feeling is almost always an illusion. This movement by the teenager is also normal and necessary.

4. Your teenager is moving away from your hands-­on guidance and toward your hands-­off availability. It may not seem that way, especially when your teen still wants you to take care of those little tasks like laun­dry, cooking, cleaning and paying for everything. And he does need your guidance in those "teachable moments" and when he wants answers to those "Oh, Mom, what about ... ?" questions.

This kind of movement by a teen can be particularly difficult for a mom when her youngest child is moving away from the hands-­on guid­ing she's been doing for years. For both moms and dads, the key phrase is "be there[FotF1] ." Even if your teen doesn't always take advantage of your wisdom and knowledge and ideas, even if she doesn't even seem to want you around, be there — just in case.

5. Your teenager is moving away from your control and toward influ­ence. I'll have more to say about the nature and impact of this shift later in this article series. For now, just realize that it happens.

1Grossman, Lev, "They Just Won't Grow Up," Time, January 24, 2005, pp. 42-53.

Why Parents Want to Control Their Teens

Here are 5 things that make it hard for parents to give up trying to control their teens.

by Tim Sanford

The baton is being passed from you, the parent, to your teenager. This has to happen if he or she is going to be a healthy, adult human being. And it has to happen whether or not you think your teen is ready for it. It's easier to let go when you like the way your son or daughter is decid­ing and doing things. It's harder when you don't.

But it's not your job to make your child turn out "right."[FotF1] 

This disconnecting from parents, this preparing to leave the nest is going to happen. It needs to happen, is already happening. So how can you work with it and not against it?

In some ways it's like one of my favorite activities, whitewater raft­ing. During years as a wilderness guide in Colorado, I learned that when you're in a little orange rubber raft, you'd better go with the flow. Don't try to paddle upstream; don't fight the current. Instead, use it to navi­gate through the rapids to your destination.

The key to staying upright is knowing that you don't have control over the river or its direction — but you do have control over your actions and placement of your raft. You work with the river; you go with the flow.

In the same way, you can learn to go with the flow of changes in your teenager. It's not easy or smooth; it usually happens faster than the parent is ready for and more slowly than the teenager thinks he's ready for. But you can go with the flow, and keep paddling, too.

Five Obstacles in the River

If whitewater rafting were just a matter of floating downstream, it wouldn't be much of an adventure. So it is with the journey to adult­hood. Just as every interesting river contains rocks and waterfalls and "strainers" that threaten to trap you underwater, the path you and your teen are trying to navigate includes some hefty obstacles. Here are five that make it harder for parents to keep their fingers off the "control" button.

1. Teen brains aren't finished yet. The frontal lobe of the brain — the part responsible for decision-­making and reasoning — isn't fully developed until a person's early 20s.

According to Abigail Baird of the Laboratory for Adolescent Stud­ies at Dartmouth, the human brain continues to grow and change into the early 20s. "We as a society deem an individual at the age of 18 ready for adult responsibility," she states. "Yet recent evidence suggests that our neuropsychological development is many years from being complete."1

As a result of this physical reality, your teenager is caught between two worlds: that of being a child (with simple, incomplete thinking and a minimal data bank of experience), and that of being an adult (with more complete, mature thinking and a bigger data bank).

Teenagers can and do act like adults at times. This is normal. And they can and do act childishly at times. This is also normal.

This aspect of neurology doesn't mean your teenager has an auto­matic excuse for wrong behavior or poor decision-­making. But your relationship will be less troubled if you realize this yo­yo behavior and these thought patterns are to be expected — and that you'll have to deal with them.

2. We're over-­stimulated. We live in an over-­connected society. You can take the entertainment industry wherever you go, fitting thousands of tunes and hundreds of video clips in your shirt pocket. You can surf the Internet on your cell phone — or just talk or text constantly on it. You don't have to miss a TV show, thanks to cable and dishes and the trans­formation of "Tivo" into a verb. You can claim "friends" you've never actually met through online gaming and social networking sites. The assault of advertising is endless.

Then there are the after-­school sports, the scholarship contests, the oboe recitals and the laser tag parties.

It's just too much.

And it's a formula for agi­tation, rudeness, being constantly "on edge." Over-stimulation also drives impulsivity; that much data can't be processed. There's no time to think, so a person simply reacts. The result: poor decisions.

When you react on impulse, you're no longer in control of yourself. Not a good idea, whether you're a teen or a parent.

3. We're tired. The mayhem of modern life keeps many of us from getting enough rest. Sleep deprivation leads adults and teens to exhibit chronic mental and physical fatigue. It wears down a person's ability to reason. In extreme cases, it can lead to psychotic episodes.

How can you tell if you or your teenager is sleep­-deprived? Just answer these questions:

If your answer is yes to either of these, you may be sleep deprived. Talk to your family physician about how you might handle that problem.

A little rest can make a big difference in family relationships.

Whatever happened to the idea of a day of rest — not as legalism but as a sanity-saver? What happened to going on a picnic in the park or taking an afternoon nap? Ignoring your need for rest affects the level at which you and your teenager exercise sound, wise control.

4. Young adults have permission to stay irresponsible. Due to the num­ber of people in the workforce, your teen's generation might be consid­ered unneeded. The workplace is already crowded and competitive, so there's no rush to bring young people aboard. This is one factor leading to the acceptance of a much longer stage of adolescence.

Our culture grants teenagers permission not to grow up, not to be responsible, not to be mature. Many skirt responsibility for their finances, decisions and behaviors — not to mention the idea of moving out on their own.

In short, your teenager is being encouraged to avoid independence while you're trying to guide him or her to be a responsible, independ­ent adult. Can you hear the tension?

5. The culture doesn't support your values. "Growing up" isn't the only subject on which teens hear mixed messages. You might urge your kids to stay away from alcoholic beverages, while many sports celebrities pitch beer. Youth groups teach teens to abstain from sex before marriage, while TV shows present premarital sex as the norm.

This issue isn't new, and the tension between Christianity and cul­ture has always existed. But the impact of over­-stimulation and the per­mission to remain immature make the problem much worse. Your teenager needs time to think things through and wrestle with his or her belief system — but time is in short supply. Faced with a constant barrage of contradictory messages, it's no wonder so many kids don't know how to grow mature and act wisely.

The Right Direction

You're not going to eliminate these obstacles by reading this article series. But recognizing them gives you an advantage when assisting your teenager through these difficult years, now and in the future.

Remember, don't fight the river. Go with the flow. Paddle vigor­ously in the right direction.

Yes, the currents are making your job that much harder — and you can't control them. That's why it's vital not to lose control over the things that are rightfully yours — as a parent seeking to raise a responsible teenager to adulthood.

1Grossman, Lev, "They Just Won't Grow Up," Time, January 24, 2005, pp. 42-53.

Control Versus Responsibility

Understanding the differences between control, responsibility and liability — and how those nudge parents to try controlling teens.

by Tim Sanford

It's true that contemporary culture makes your job as a parent more dif­ficult. It's true that your teenager holds this wild card called free will.

But parenting is still doable. You just need to know what you can control and can't control.

Easy, right?

Well, no.

Lines can get fuzzy when your daughter has just stormed into her bedroom and slammed the door for the tenth time in one day. Or when your son calls to tell you he's "slightly" dented the car on a badly located street sign — and it wasn't his fault.

This article suggests how to draw some lines between "healthy" and "unhealthy" when it comes to control and your teenager. To under­stand these boundaries, you need to understand the terms control and responsibility.

Who's in Control?

When it comes to raising teenagers, the world really can be split into two major categories:

control columns

Here control means to have direct and complete power over.

Given this definition, what in your life really fits into "What I Can Control"?

You probably will come up with only three things: me, myself and

I. That's it. You can control yourself. You cannot control other people, though you may be able to influence them. You can't control the weather or every part of any given circumstance. You just can't.

But there's always some piece of any given circumstance that you do have control over. It may not include as much control as you'd like or any control over other people. While you can't control the situation, you can control your attitude and response.

If that's all that fits into the "What I Can Control" category, guess what fits into "What I Can't Control"?

Everything and everybody else.

That's a whole lot — over six billion human beings, not to mention events and pets. One of those six billion humans you don't have control over is your teenager. Knowing this is the starting point of losing control of your teen and liking it.

If the only things you can control are "me, myself and I," guess who has control over your teenager? He or she does.

Whether your teen exercises wise control is a whole other topic. But it's not your job to make sure (that is, control the outcome) that he or she turns out right. You can't do it anyway, so stop trying.

Who's Responsible?

Another way to categorize people and events is shown in the following diagram.

responsibility rows

Responsible is a compound word: response-­able, meaning "able to respond." The only things you can legitimately respond to — the only things you can take "ownership" of — are the things you have control over.

This is not the same, by the way, as being liable. Liable means to be legally obligated to make good any loss or damage.

Consider this particular case.

Mark was a single parent with a 14-­year­-old daughter. She was extremely rebellious; that's why he brought her to see me. Mandy refused to cooperate with anything her dad tried to get her to do.

One night as Mark was sleeping — expecting his daughter would be doing the same — Mandy snuck out of the house. She took Mark's car, using a key she'd secretly copied weeks before from his back­up set of keys. She drove to a friend's house.

Mandy was not an experienced driver and man­aged to get into a fairly colorful fender bender with a stationary vehicle.

The police were called; reports were made. Mark ended up at the police station, dealing with the consequences of his daughter's actions.

Now it's quiz time.

Question One: Was Mandy's "borrowing" the car something Mark could control?

Answer: No. For Mark, it belongs in the "What I Can't Control" category.

"But wait," you might say. "It was Mark's fault, because it was his car. I mean, if he didn't have a car, there would have been nothing for Mandy to 'borrow,' right? And if he didn't have an extra set of keys, it would have been harder to make a copy."

If you want to follow that logic — and we as parents often do follow a "logic" very close to this — then it was Henry Ford's fault. He's the one who mass-­produced the automobile in the first place, at least in the U.S. If Henry hadn't done that, Mark probably wouldn't have had a car in the first place. Mandy wouldn't have had a vehicle to "borrow."

No, it isn't Henry's fault. It's not Mark's fault, either.

Question Two: Was the fender bender an action Mark was respon­sible for?

Answer: No. For Mark, it belongs in the "What I Don't Take Responsibility For" category. How could Mark have "responded" to the imminent crash when he wasn't even there? He wasn't response-­able.

Question Three: Are the owners of the other vehicle going to go after Mark to pay for the damages incurred?

Answer: Yes. Mark, as Mandy's legal guardian, is liable. He is legally obligated to make good any loss or damage.

Mark can't control Mandy. He isn't responsible for the accident. But he's held liable for the damage. This is an awful Catch­22 for us par­ents, but there seem to be tons of those throughout the teenage years.

Being held liable, and feeling that society deems us responsible, many of us parents believe we must control our teenagers ... somehow.

Don't fall for it, and try not to subject other parents to it, either.

Two Relational Styles: Holding and Tossing

How control and responsibility affect the relationship between you and your teen.

by Tim Sanford

So how does a parent mind his or her own business and still parent?

To answer that question, we'll look at the Control Grid.

There are four boxes, or quadrants, in our diagram. Each quadrant represents a specific style of relating to or interacting with another per­son. These are not personality types (which are mostly unchangeable), but ways you — and your teenager — may interact relationally in any given situation.

A person can use any of the four styles. In fact, you may find your­self or your teenager bouncing back and forth among different styles during a single conversation about one topic.

Let's look at each style.

Style One: Hold

HOLD represents the interacting style that takes the "What I Can Con­trol" category and says, "This is what I take responsibility for."

hold grid

When you're a HOLDer, the following terms could be used to accu­rately describe you:

The HOLDer says, "What's mine is mine." When you use this style, you hold onto the things that are legitimately yours to control and are therefore responsible for. You keep what's yours to keep. You're respon­sible for it.

Anybody using this style of relating will have confidence. I'm not talking about self-­esteem; I mean a confidence in one's abilities and char­acter. The more honest you are with yourself and with me, the more confident you'll be.

This is one of two healthy styles of interacting, whether you're the teenager or the parent.

Style Two: Toss

TOSSers take the "What I Can Control" category and say, "I don't take responsibility for it."

hold and toss grid

If you — or your teenager — is a TOSSer, the following terms could be used to describe you (or him or her):

The TOSSer says, "What's mine is yours." When you use this style, you toss off your responsibilities. You try to unload your stuff onto some­body else, for him or her to handle, fix, be responsible for and bear the consequences of.

This is the interactive style we often see in our teenagers. Does the following sound familiar? "It's not my fault, Mom. You didn't wake me up in time to study for my test this morning! And besides, it was an awful test anyway. The teacher should never have given it, especially on Monday morning! That's just stupid."

But before you think only teenagers are capable of TOSSing, think again.

"Son, you ruined my entire day. Can't you see you're making your mother have migraines? She can't help it she worries about you. If you'd stop being such a jerk, maybe we could have some sanity in this house again."

It's easy for parents to be TOSSers as well.

Since confidence grows in direct proportion to honesty, and people using the TOSS style are not being honest, this style will erode confi­dence. Even if I get away with blaming somebody else and he or she takes the fall for my actions, I won't gain genuine assurance about my character and abilities.

This is not a healthy style to use. It won't help anybody.

Two More Relational Styles: Grabbing and Folding

How control and responsibility affect the relationship between you and your teen.

by Tim Sanford

There are two more styles of relating interpersonally.

Style Three: Grab

GRAB is the style that takes the "What I Can't Control" category and says, "I take responsibility for it."

hold toss and grab grid

For a GRABer, the following descriptions often would be accurate:

The GRABer says, "What's yours is mine." Maybe your teenager TOSSes and you GRAB what he or she just TOSSed. Sometimes you may start GRABing even before he or she starts TOSSing. "I'll just han­dle it all from the beginning," you think.

This is a style of interacting parents often find themselves in. They think, If it's my fault as a parent, I can "fix" it because I'm a responsible per­son. If I can fix it, it will turn out the way I want it to.

But that's not reality. You don't control the way other people turn out. You're not God, so please don't try to play Him.

What happens to confidence when you use this style? You can't win the game of controlling the uncontrollable, and losing tends to destroy confidence. If it appears that you did win, you may gain a false sense of confidence. Either way, it's not a healthy relating style — no matter how spiritual we might try to make it sound. It's not healthy to take responsibility for things you can't control — nor is it based on truth.

Style Four: Fold

The FOLDer takes the "What I Can't Control" category and says, "I don't take responsibility for it." Think of FOLDing your hands in front of you — refusing to GRAB what isn't your problem.

hold toss grab and fold grid

When you're FOLDing, the following terms probably would describe you:

FOLDers say, "What's yours is yours." We need to practice this style more often and teach our teenagers to do the same. It's the other healthy style of interaction.

Using this style of relating may give the appearance that you don't care, but that's not true. I do care about your car; it's just not my vehi­cle to wash.

Daily we're affected by things we have no control over. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking, Well, since it affects me, I should have some control over it! In doing so, you slide up the diagram and end up inter­acting as a GRABer.

If it's not yours to own, keep your hands FOLDed. Don't take responsibility for it, even if it has a huge impact on you. That's life.

Remember Mark and Mandy and the fender bender? FOLD is the interactive style I encouraged Mark to use, even though he had to pay for repairing the other vehicle. He wasn't in control and wasn't respon­sible, though he was liable for the financial damages.

This style is harder to use than it may first appear. It's painful to be affected by something you don't have control over. It makes us feel "out of control" — because it is out of our control.

It's also hard to see someone you love — your teenager — "shoot him­self in the foot" while keeping your hands FOLDed. When your son or daughter hurts, it hurts you, too. It's hard to be the one to press assault charges against your son. It's embarrassing to walk through the church lobby after spending Saturday night at the police station, bailing your daughter out of jail. It's hard to let our own flesh and blood make stu­pid mistakes that we know will shape them for the rest of their lives — sometimes in huge ways.

But the truth is still, "What's yours is yours, and what's theirs is theirs."

Remember to HOLD and FOLD. Those are the healthy styles of interacting. Avoid the TOSS and GRAB styles. Those are unhealthy ways of interacting with another person — especially your teenager.

hold and fold grid

Keep Drawing Those Lines

Mark FOLDed his hands when it came to Mandy's auto accident — because it was hers, not his. What Mark did next, he did as a HOLDer. He took the copied key from Mandy (after determining that Mandy had only one made) and meted out a consequence.

If memory serves me correctly, this was the penalty: Mark took the door off Mandy's room for two weeks. More precisely, he took the door he owned off the room he owned, which Mandy was living in. The door was legitimately under his control.

But did he do this in order to control Mandy?

No. He was trying to influence Mandy with the consequence. It was a life rule in action: "There's always somebody or something whose job is to make your life miserable when you choose stupid."

Your goal is to influence, not control, your teenager.

Why Control Doesn't Work

These two examples show why controlling parents aren't effective when they interact with teens.

by Tim Sanford

Using the four styles of interacting (HOLD, GRAB, TOSS and FOLD), there are four possi­ble "dances" that can occur when two people interact. Let's look at these dances, using four versions of a teen-­parent situ­ation I've encountered in my counseling. Of course, I've made some changes in the actual dialogue and added some hypothetical elements. Consider the roles of control and influence in each dance.

Dance One: the HOLD and GRAB

In this example the teen is a HOLDer. Remember, that's the type who takes responsibility for what he can control. He says, "What's mine is mine."

But the parent here is a GRABer. She tries to take responsibility for things she can't control. She says, "What's yours is mine."

hold and grab grid

I'll play the part of the 16­-year-­old son and use my name in the story.

TIM: "That's so dumb! I can't believe I flunked the written part of my driver's test. Man, I can ace the driving part! I guess I didn't study enough."

(Notice how I'm taking ownership of my failed test.)

MOM: "Honey, I'm so sorry you didn't pass the test. Come here. I'll make you your favorite brownies. I'm sorry I didn't help you enough; I've just been stressed out with your dad traveling so much lately. I guess I should have helped you study more. I'm sorry. I didn't even think about giving you the sample test I saw on the Internet last week. Go get the book and I'll study it with you."

(Mom is GRABing, trying to control the outcome by taking ownership and blame. It's not the same as validating my feelings and helping me take ownership. She's not trying to influence me, she's trying to fix something that isn't hers to fix.)

TIM: "It's okay, Mom. I can handle it. I'm just frustrated, that's all."

MOM: "No, I'm sorry I haven't been more involved in your life lately. Let me help you."

TIM: "Mom, I'll be okay."

MOM: "I said I would help you, and I will."

TIM: "But, Mom — "

MOM: "No 'buts.' Go get the manual. I'll quiz you right now on the questions you missed."

This dance happens a lot more than you might expect. We may not notice it because the teenager's plan for "fixing" things may seem unwise or incomplete. Still, even if you're trying to "help," that's no reason to reach for the responsibility yourself.

This dance produces tension and strain. Why? Because both par­ticipants are trying to control the same thing. And two people can't own the same thing at the same time.

In this case, the teenager is using a healthy style of interacting. The parent isn't. The teen is trying to HOLD on to control that belongs to him, and Mom is trying to take it away. Get ready for a fight, because teenagers don't want to be controlled or manipulated — directly or covertly.

Mom needs to take her hands off and let "Tim" learn on his own. She can influence what he does next, but her stab at control won't help either of them.

Dance Two: the TOSS and GRAB

In this example the teen is a TOSSer. Remember, that's the type who refuses responsibility for what he can control. He says, "What's mine is yours."

The parent here is a GRABer, as in Dance One.

toss and grab grid

TIM: "That's so stupid! I can't believe I flunked the written part of the driver's test. Man, I can ace the driving part! Mom, why didn't you make me study that stupid manual more?"

(Notice how I'm trying to push ownership of my failed test onto Mom, expecting her to take the blame and fix the problem.)

MOM: "Honey, I'm so sorry you didn't pass the test. Come here. I'll make you your favorite brownies. I'm sorry I didn't help you enough; I've just been stressed out with your dad traveling so much lately. I guess I should have helped you study more. I'm sorry. I didn't even think about giving you the sample test I saw on the Internet last week. Here, go get the book and I'll study with you. I'll also call the DMV to see if I can make arrangements to retake the test without having to pay for it. Okay?"

(Mom is GRABing again.)

TIM: "Where'd you put the book, anyway?"

MOM: "I don't know. What did you do with it?"

TIM: "How should I know? You're the one who's always going around and cleaning up my stuff — putting it where I can never find it again."

MOM: "I'll look for it as soon as I finish paying these bills."

TIM: "Whatever."

Does this sound familiar? It's far more common than Dance One, especially in homes with a teenager. The terrible thing about this dance is that it "works." The teenager TOSSes; the parent GRABs. There's no real tension. It's like you're playing a game of catch.

One problem with this dance is that the TOSSing goes in only one direction — away from the teen and toward the parent. It's not a healthy way to interact. Another problem is that the parent isn't influencing; she's still trying to control the outcome by GRABing. The teen's TOSS­ing seems to invite this, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea for either party.

When a parent dances this way, it's often because this recording is playing in his or her jukebox: If it's my fault, then I can fix it. If I can fix it, it will turn out the way I want it to. The parent is trying to control a part of the world he or she can't control.

The lack of tension in the "TOSS and GRAB" dance fools some parents and teens into thinking all is well on the Western Front. It fools some parents into thinking they're acting responsibly. It also gives teens a false sense of power — and parents a false sense of being needed.

How to Influence Your Teen

These two examples show how an influencing parent should respond to a teen.

by Tim Sanford

Dance Three: the TOSS and FOLD

This time the teen is once again a TOSSer, declining to take responsi­bility for what he can control.

But the parent is a FOLDer. She doesn't take responsibility for things she can't control. She says, "What's yours is yours."

toss and fold grid

TIM: "That's so stupid! I can't believe I flunked the written part of the driver's test. Man, I can ace the driving part! Mom, why didn't you make me study that stupid manual more?"

(I'm still TOSSing.)

MOM: "Honey, I'm so sorry you didn't pass your test. Come here. I'll make you your favorite brownies."

(Did you notice the new pronoun? "You didn't pass your test." It's sub­tle, but makes all the difference.)

MOM: "I'm sorry you flunked your driving test. What do you think you need to do to ace it next time you take it? I saw a sample test on the Internet last week. If you want the Web site, just let me know. Maybe it will help you get ready to take it again soon."

(Mom's hands are FOLDed. She's not accepting responsibility, not GRA­Bing for control. She's sympathetic, but not taking the blame.)

TIM: "It's not my fault. You didn't make me study!"

MOM: "No, Tim. It's not my fault. I passed my driver's test a long time ago. This is your license to earn, not mine."

TIM: "Don't you want me to get my driver's license? You don't care about me, do you?"

(Yes, the FOLD style can be misinterpreted as "I don't care." But Mom is simply refusing to engage in a power struggle. She's making sure I keep my own control by not GRABing for it, and letting me HOLD the consequences of my own foolish choice.)

MOM: "Tim, Dad and I do care about you. This is something that's not ours to be responsible for. Whether you pass your driver's test is up to you. You may want to plan to study so you'll be ready for it next time."

(Mom's not trying to fix it because it's not hers to fix. She's trying to influence me by giving me good advice about studying more.)

When you're caught up in this dance with your teenager, hold your ground! You're doing it right! Yes, there's tension — but that's not your fault. The tension comes from the TOSSer's use of an unhealthy style of interacting, and you're not letting him get away with it.

Sure, this dance can be tiring. But if you keep holding your ground, one of two things will happen:

1. The tension will continue. That's a bummer, but don't cave in.

2. Your teenager will eventually move up the grid, start being a HOLDer, and take responsibility for what he can control. Good for you! You may even have influenced him to choose smart.

If you give in and GRAB just to relieve the tension, you've gone back to the TOSS and GRAB dance. Don't do that. Hang in there.

Dance Four: the HOLD and FOLD

In this case the teen is a HOLDer. He takes responsibility for what he can control. That's a good thing.

The parent is a FOLDer. She doesn't take responsibility for what she can't control. That's a good thing, too.

hold and fold grid

TIM: "That's so dumb! I can't believe I flunked the written part of my driver's test. Man, I can ace the driving part! I guess I didn't study enough."

(I'm owning the problem.)

MOM: "Honey, I'm so sorry you didn't pass your test. Come here. I'll make you your favorite brownies. What do you think you need to do to pass it next time? I did notice a sample test on the Internet last week. If you want the Web site, just let me know. Maybe that will help you get ready to take it again soon."

(Mom's FOLDing, letting me be. She's not taking it upon herself to ensure that I pass next time. She's trying to influence me, but not control.)

TIM: "Thanks, Mom. Let me know when the brownies are ready. I'm going to look for my manual. Any idea where it is?"

(I'm not trying to TOSS. Even if I don't do it very well, I want Mom to let me HOLD what I can control.)

MOM: "No, I don't know where your manual is. Did you look behind your desk? Things tend to fall behind there, you know."

(Mom is letting me live with the consequences of my behavior. She offers a good suggestion — to influence me, not to control the outcome.)

TIM: "I don't think it's back there, but I'll start there. If I don't find it, I guess I'll have to get another manual from the DMV office. This is so stupid."

MOM: "I hope you find it, honey."

In this dance, there's no battle or tension. The teen takes responsi­bility for his actions, and the parent lets him keep it. It's as simple as that.

That doesn't mean there's no impact on you — especially if you're the one who ends up driving the teen back to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get another copy of the driver's manual. But the license isn't yours to get. You're letting the teen experience the realities of life in attempting to get it.

If this dance unfolds in your home, you're doing it correctly! Keep it up.

Yes, it's a lot easier to FOLD when your teenager decides to HOLD. But you still get credit for FOLDing. If your teen tries to HOLD but isn't doing a very good job of it, keep FOLDing. Come alongside him or her and model how to HOLD more wisely. That's influence. Avoid the temptation to slide up the Control Grid and GRAB.

A Parent of Influence

So, is it control or influence to take away your 18-­year-­old's car keys?

Assuming it's not a situation in which your teen isn't able to exer­cise control (he or she is drunk, for instance), it depends on whether you're making a pre­emptive strike that eliminates your teen's options. Are you GRABing his or her power to pick smart or stupid? Or are you influencing by letting him or her experience the "ouch" of a poor choice already made (FOLDing)?

While you're at it, here are some other questions to ask yourself:

If there's tension in the relationship, chances are that someone isn't using a healthy style of interacting. It's either your teenager ... or it's you.

Be sure it's not you. If it is, do what it takes to get yourself out of the GRAB or TOSS pattern. Talk with a friend, pastor or counselor if you need to.

If you're HOLDing and FOLDing, stand your ground. Keep influ­encing, even when GRABing and TOSSing look easier. It's the health­iest way to "lose control" of your teen.

Next Steps and Related Information

Additional information to help you let your teen go

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