Letting Go of Your Teen

How come every time my 17 year old leaves the house I get a panic attack?

Protecting my investment I guess.

As these teens march forward after years of bills, laundry, camp, school, fights, flights and more, how do we suddenly let go?

Teenagers are not necessarily aware of their zero to sixty reaction time.  The mechanisms start to fire and off they go. It has been explained in many recent books, such as “Brainstorm” by Daniel Siegel.  Just try to reason with an adolescent when she’s worked up.  Flooding overrides rationality every time.  So I slow it down.  Or try anyway, until she’s calm again.

In another great book, “Why Do They Act That Way?” the author, David Walsh explains the difference between abnormal and normal teenage behavior.  What a relief to know that it’s mostly normal!  And if it’s not, help is available.  It’s the 21st Century people!  Get thee to a therapist!  So it seems, as my mother rightly pointed out, they are provoking you push them out the door by being super-obnoxious.

In therapy with teens, I often let them drive the boat.  Letting them decide when they’re ready to confront their parents puts them in the driver’s seat, which they long for.  And then I help them explain their wild and crazy feelings to their parents.  It seems routine for me to do family therapy, but my patients tell me it’s incredibly powerful.  In fact, I remember doing this with my parents around that time. Just a little support goes a long, long way.  Never before were they able to say,

  • “You hurt me when you called me lazy.”
  • “You favored my sister all these years.”
  • “You and daddy fight too much.”
  • “I wish you had forced me to practice piano more.”
  • “I hated High School and you didn’t even care!”

Right now my teen is mad at me because I keep nudging her about her whereabouts in my car.  I am not a traditionally over-protective mom (I hide my separation anxiety well!).  But now that she’s driving my anxiety is through the roof.

Or is it my fear of her leaving?

Fear for her safety as a young woman in college?

What if she’s in the city and gets into trouble (muggers, rapists, drug dealers)?  Or as someone reminded me, it’s even worse in the country (drunken frat boys, boredom, lack of medical access)!

Of course you never stop worrying about your kids. But teens are pushing really hard, so hard, for their independence that we have a screaming match at 8:30am in the morning about, “How dare you think so little of me that I would take your car on a joy ride!”  It’s not you, honey, it’s me.  It’s everyone else.  Just like I let you go to Kindergarten that first day, not looking back, I need to do it all over again.  Try to understand.  

But she doesn’t.  She’s doing exactly what she’s supposed to do: grow up, break free, take responsibility for herself.

Just don’t forget the lunch date you promised me when you’re away.  I’ll never be too far behind you…driving-1391784-639x508

Letting Go of Your Teen

Donna C. Moss

You can learn more about Donna's work at her personal website.

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APA Reference
Moss, D. (2016). Letting Go of Your Teen. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 24, 2019, from


Last updated: 18 May 2016
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