Teenagers – when is the right time to let go?

My 16 year old son is pretty well behaved. He doesn’t skip school, he doesn’t go out without us knowing where he is and he comes in on time.

We’ve never had any reason to think he’s into drugs or smoking. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t drink. He doesn’t like the taste of beer or wine and although he jokes about spirits, he’s never come in drunk or smelling of alcohol. He’s been offered a beer at home, but he won’t take it (unlike his younger brother who will happily have half a glass and would have a lot more if we let him).

He’s never had a girlfriend, although there is a girl he is particularly close to that he sees a lot of.

There have been a few parties, sleepovers and get-togethers, but we usually pick him up before midnight, or at a good time the following morning.

But, talking to a friend whose daughter is 18 months older and in Year 13, I started to wonder whether we should let him do a bit more?

This girl goes clubbing and often goes home at 4 or 5 in the morning. She has her own car. She doesn’t go on holiday with her family any more and has her boyfriend to stay when they’re away.

On the other hand, my son has female friends who still have to hand their phones over to their parents at 9.30pm and aren’t allowed at parties with too many boys or with people they don’t know.

Should we be encouraging him to stay out later, make his own way home, maybe have a drink or two, so that he can get used to these things while his parents are nearby in case things do go wrong?

My son hates going on holiday to Padstow with us, but he will be going along with us as usual this year, when he’s 17. We do make a few allowances for him, but there’s no way we will be letting him miss the family holiday and stay at home on his own until he’s 18.

By having fairly strict rules and always being there to pick him up, are we preventing him from becoming independent? Should he be allowed to make mistakes, so that he is better able to look after himself when he leaves home?

I don’t have any answers, I’m just thinking about it and putting it out there. Will my teenager find his feet in his own time, should we be giving him a little push or should we just be really grateful that he’s not coming home drunk at 5am?

Teenager, Teen, Boy, Teenagers - when is the right time to let go?

 

Author: Sarah Mummy

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32 Comments

  1. There’s a fine balance between encouraging independence and taking your eye off the ball. The kids came on holiday with us till they were 18 but we were guided by what they wanted to do and issued boundaries/made up the rules as we went along. Child 4 had a different upbringing being in South Africa we taught him to drive to give him not more or some but to have freedom. I’d say carryon as you’re doing, sounds like you have a good lad there.

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    • Thanks very much! That’s good to hear from someone who has successfully raised five kids to adulthood. We’ve given him more freedom on holiday in recent years, but he stil moans about going with us! He’ll be 18 next summer, so I suspect he will opt not to go with us (unless we suddenly decide to go somewhere ‘cool’ of course).

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  2. There’s a balance needed but in 16mths he could be living away from home at university. Isn’t it best he starts to get some independence now than be thrown in the deep end at university.

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    • That’s pretty much what I’m starting to think! I know I was pretty naive and sheltered when I got to university, but I survived it! He’s actually adamant that he’s not going to uni, which I fully support, but he probably still needs to learn a bit more independence.

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  3. It sounds like you’re doing an amazing job! I see so many teenagers given too much independence when actually at the end of the day they are still your children.
    From the sounds of it it sounds like you trust him and that’s the most important thing. You don’t need to throw everything out the window but from time to time you could probably let him be a bit more independent

    But family holiday, a lot of kids don’t get a family holiday or don’t get the option to go with their parents. I’m sure he will enjoy it once he’s there.

    Katie xx

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    • Thanks very much. I like to think we’ve got the balance about right.
      Sadly he hasn’t enjoyed our family holidays for years. We always go to the same place, which the rest of us love and find very relaxing, but he always moans about it, even though we do let him choose some of the things he does.

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  4. I was so pleased to read this!! Such a difficult dilemma Sarah – and one we can all relate to. I’ve trusted my instincts more when parenting teens than at any other time in my life! Once they are 18, they are an adult and can make their own decisions. But they don’t acquire the judgement and skills to be an adult overnight through some magical potion that they take on their 18th birthday. It’s a gradual process of trial and error and that starts around 15/16 for most of them in my view and continues until …well it never ends really does it? I try to judge every situation on its merits and continually compromise. Things like “Yes, you can go the party but you text me every hour so I know that you are safe” I constantly question my own values, my own ability to assess risk and at times my own sanity. Raising three teen daughters in 2018 is not easy and as much as I’d like to lock them in the house I know that it’s not the best option for me or them. You’re oozing common sense Sarah so I know you’ll find a happy medium that allows him to develop as an individual but stay safe. Good luck! xx

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    • Thanks very much, it’s reassuring to know I’m not the only one going through this dilemma – and it’s still a dilemma on your third child, not just your first! It’s so true that they won’t magically become an adult with all the skills to deal with adult life on their 18th birthday. I’m aware that my son will be 18 in just over a year and although he can deal with some things, he’s not ready to be independent just yet. I like the idea that it is a gradual process starting around 15 or 16.

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  5. Argh it’s such a difficult balance, isn’t it? To be fair I think a lot can change between 16 and 18. What I let my teens do at 18 I probably wouldn’t even have considered at 16 (I say let, of course at 18 they are technically adults so can do what they want to a point!) You’ll probably find that you’ll come across situations over these next couple of years where you have to let him spread his wings a little more than he perhaps is now but I’d say let things take their natural course and encourage it as and when it happens. From the sounds of it he’s a good lad so keep following your instincts and you can’t go far wrong x

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    • Thanks very much, that’s very reassuring! And it’s right that there is a big difference between 16 and 18, although my son is nearly 17 now, so it’s only just over a year until he’s 18. The one thing he does do, which I’ve struggled with but had to trust him on, is go camping with friends and without adults. He’s been doing that from time to time for over 18 months now and he hasn’t had any problems with it. I’ll keep trusting my instincts! x

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  6. I think if he wanted more independence then he would come to you and ask. I know we were talking about this the other day, and there is no written rule about what they (and us parents) should be doing at a certain time. As you know Morgan sounds very similar to your son, and I like to think that he enjoys the independence he gets. I think you are doing a great job, and I wouldn’t push things until he mentions them x

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    • Thanks very much, that is a very sensible approach! I don’t have to tell him to go drinking because he might not want to drink, right? I never did, so maybe he won’t too. The one thing he does do from time to time is go camping with friends and no adults, and he’s been doing that for over 18 months now. I must admit it still scares me a bit, but we haven’t had any problems with it. x

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  7. Gosh it’s a minefield isn’t it? I think the fact you can trust him probably answers your question – you’re clearly getting it right because he’s turning out to be responsible and trustworthy. I went to university a couple of months after turning 18, having had no freedom whatsoever as a child and it was a huge shock. I didn’t know how to look after myself, hadn’t properly experimented with alcohol in a safe environment and had never spent time on my own at home. The change was too big and I intend to give my girls their freedom more gradually in the hope they’ll be more responsible and better prepared than I was.
    Nat.x

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    • That’s interesting to hear about your experiences. I was an autumn baby, so already 19 when I went to university. I’d led a fairly sheltered life, but I had been left at home with my (younger) brother for a week when my parents went on holiday and I’d been to Glastonbury! There’s always that small question mark over whether I can trust him, but he hasn’t actually let me down yet! x

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  8. I don’t have any words of wisdom but wondering if you think he has more, or less, freedom than we had at his age? By sixth form we were travelling to London for concerts, staying out late (though not till 4am!), driving, I went to Paris with my boyfriend …

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    • That’s a good point. He probably has slightly less freedom than I had, but not significantly less. I was left with my brother while my parents went on holiday when I was 17. I won’t be leaving him at home for a week when he’s 17! He has been camping with his friends and no adults a number of times since the start of Year 11 (his previous school year), which made me nervous, but it has always been fine. He’s still only 16 and has another year left in school, so there’s still time for more freedom before he turns 18.

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  9. Growing up happens bit by bit from the day they are born and their independence along with it. I felt life was always a dilemma from what age do you let them out to play on the street with their pals. When do you let them walk to school by themselves/with a group of friends. From going off into town by themselves, I feel it is as much a learning curve for you as them. I am sure you do tings differently with child 3 than you did with child 1 not just because they are different but because you have grown and learnt.
    I never saw it when they came home having had a drink for the first time as letting you down I just saw it as anyway of growing up and feeling secure enough in your love for them to experiment wit you there to pick up the pieces when it goes wrong.
    Teaching them respect for themselves as well as other people goes a long way in life and I have had them phone me before organised pick up time to come and get them because they did not like the way the evening was panning out etc.
    You sound like a very sensible caring and loving parent who has got him to nearly 17 without any major hiccups and I tink if you carry on letting him stick his big toe in the water as and when he feels comfortable with it he will learn to know what makes him uncomfortable and to avoid it, or adapt it in the future.
    Child 1 sadly for them is your experiment child and the younger ones get it easier because of what you do with this one and what you are currently learning.
    Yes I like Suzanne have brought up 5 kids to adulthood but I made some mistakes along the way and wish I had done a few things differently back then but they have all turned into great adults with morals and values and are passing that on to their children.

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    • Thanks very much for your wise words. I know how proud you are of your kids and grandchildren. Number one is always going to be the challenge – the one where things sometimes go wrong and we have to learn to do better with the other two.
      I admire your stance on drinking. Unfortunately as a teetotaller with a vomiting phobia, this is always going to be something I struggle with. In an ideal world, none of my kids would drink, but I know we don’t live in an ideal world and I have to be prepared to deal with the consequences as and when they happen.

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  10. I don’t have any words of wisdom, I am following your parenting skills for my few years in front. I think it is difficult to give them the freedom, but not too much as they don’t always have the smarts or maturity. I think you are doing the right thing hon xx

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    • Thanks very much! I like to think I’m getting it about right, but the contrast between him and the slightly older girl just made me wonder whether he needs a bit more freedom to help him learn about independence safely.

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  11. It really does sound like you have a wee gem on your hands. You seem to be calling it right so far, so I’m sure your decision will be guided by your instincts rather than peer pressure – his or yours. #Tweensteensbeyond

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    • Thanks very much! That’s a lovely thing to hear and very reassuring.

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  12. You sound like my parents! 🙂 I’m almost 19 and also the first child and it seems like it is a case of trial and error at the moment! I have very little freedom (never got on a bus/train by myself) and have never had a job so still rely on pocket money. I’m never left home alone overnight and don’t go out late or without them knowing my exact location. I do wonder what it would be like to be like the girl you talked about who clubs till 5 etc but I’m quite happy although I do sometimes feel like a Victorian daughter waiting to be handed over to a husband to take care of me. My mum talks about her teenage years and they sound a lot wilder than mine are

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    • I’m afraid to say that my son has more freedom than you! He’s got a part-time job and has caught buses on his own. He’s camped without adults and has had his first night alone in the house. My younger was catching buses on his own to a town nearly 20 miles away on his own at 13. It did make me nervous, but he was perfectly fine. He’s flying on his own in the summer, at the age of 14.

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  13. I have no idea Sarah. Absolutely no idea! I feel for you as these are such difficult waters to navigate and every single kid is different. It seems to me like you’re doing everything fairly and responsibly. very best of luck!

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    • Thanks very much! I think we’re getting it just about right, but who knows? I think the fact that he doesn’t want to go to university is helpful because we don’t have the pressure to get him independent in just over a year from now.

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  14. I just tend to take my children’s lead and decide from there. It doesn’t sound like he’s asking for more freedom or to go on holiday without you or kicking off about being picked up at midnight so I would just thank your lucky stars and enjoy it while it lasts! You might end up with one who wants a little more freedom and then you can make those sorts of decisions. My middle one wants to do a little more than her sister but it’s never outrageous what she’s asking for so we just make each decision as it comes. Xx

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    • Thanks very much, I like that attitude! He said he would be in by 11.30 last night, and he was. He even made his own way home – result! Will be interesting to see how the others are at this age, but I’ll just make the most of my son being like this while it lasts! x

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  15. It is so hard to let go, I know from personal experience, but you do have to. I think as a parent, you have a good instinct about when and how to start letting them do their own thing and of course, it depends on them as individuals. I am already seeing R at 14 pull away from the family and be more independent. He doesn’t want to do things as a family and he is going out a lot more. I trust him and I know that he is pretty sensible but I have no doubt he will make some mistakes along the way. L on the other hand, is a completely different case and I know that it will be harder to let him go as he is bound to get himself into trouble. Maybe he will surprise me?

    You are a great mum Sarah and your kids are all amazing, I think you will be okay.

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    • Thanks very much, that’s a lovely thing to hear! My 14yo is pretty good. He gets the bus to see his best friend in another town, but generally he’s not trying to pull away from us, so I don’t have to worry about those things with him yet!
      Fingers crossed that L surprise you.

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  16. I don’t think it is a case of not letting go because it doesn’t sound like it’s what he wants to do (staying out late drinking etc). I think you’d probably consider it if he wanted to, but he isn’t asking so it’s not an issue. I do find it strange that as a teetotaler yourself you’d even think he needed to do it. I am the opposite and drink loads and our 21 year old doesn’t touch it. He said he tried it once at uni with his friends and didn’t like it. We let our almost 15 year old stay home alone for one night now – I think only you can judge your own child.

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    • I struggle as a teetotaller because of course I don’t want any of my kids to drink at all. I hate drinking and everything about it, but I know I have to live in the real world and that people do drink. Not drinking myself makes it harder for me to make sensible and rational decisions about what is right for my kids. There’s no way I’d let my 14 year old son stay home alone for a night.

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