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Let go to help them grow: How to give your pre-teen indpendence without the extra grey hairs

Nikki Stevenson

Nikki Stevenson

Nikki is a parenting writer and a mom to three wild boys who keep her on her toes (and occasionally make her question her sanity). With over 15 years of experience in the parenting industry, she has more tips and tricks than Mary Poppins on speed dial. When she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can find her sipping on coffee, hiding in the bathroom for five minutes of...
Created on Oct 30, 2023 · 6 mins read
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In the whirlwind of family life, there comes a time when we parents need to loosen our grip and let our children spread their wings. As my oldest son, Tyler, approached the daunting age of thirteen, it felt like a tug-of-war between holding on and setting him free. With his newfound desire for independence, I embarked on a journey of self-discovery, learning how to navigate this uncharted territory of parenting a pre-teen.

Letting go wasn’t an easy feat, and there were moments when I questioned my choices. Would he stumble and fall? Would he make the right decisions? These concerns plagued my mind until one serendipitous day when I ran into an old friend, a child psychologist, at a coffee shop. It was as if the universe conspired to bring us together.

Over steaming cups of coffee, I poured out my worries, feeling like an overprotective mama bear struggling to strike a balance. My friend listened attentively, her eyes sparkling with understanding. She shared stories from her own parenting journey and offered nuggets of wisdom that reassured and challenged me.

She reminded me that allowing our tweens to explore their independence is essential for their growth. With a chuckle, she recounted her own battles with her teenage daughter, who had a knack for pushing boundaries. We laughed over our shared experiences, like when Tyler, in a desperate attempt to avoid homework, developed a rather creative strategy. Instead of completing his assignments, he would resort to the classic “hide and seek” tactic, scattering his books throughout the house as if they had mysteriously vanished. It became a game of cat and mouse as I played detective, searching high and low for those elusive textbooks. Despite the naughtiness of his actions, it was a reminder that parenting a tween often requires a blend of firmness and understanding as we navigate their clever attempts to sidestep responsibilities. After all, I had some tricks up my sleeve when I was his age too!

Armed with a newfound perspective, I returned home determined to give Tyler the space he craved while still being there for him when he needed me most. It was a delicate dance, and there were missed steps along the way, but we still managed to laugh our way through this new chapter together.

One of the first battlegrounds we encountered was schoolwork. I found it admittedly difficult to resist the urge to swoop in and ensure Tyler’s success. But my friend’s words echoed in my mind: “Give him the chance to make mistakes and learn from them.”

So, fortified with a cup of coffee and a deep breath, I watched Tyler tackle his assignments. There were moments when my inner control freak wanted to jump in and take over, but I resisted. Instead, I became his sounding board, offering gentle nudges and helpful suggestions when he sought them. On the good days. I would be remiss not to mention the not-so-good days, where frustrations ran high, and suggestions slid back into demands. It’s not always easy to change our ways overnight! But I pulled myself back in by realising that he needed to take ownership of his education, fostering resilience and problem-solving skills along the way.

Friendships were another arena where I had to find my footing as a parent. The days of arranging playdates and monitoring every interaction were fading. Tyler’s social world was expanding, and I had to learn to let go of my need to protect him from every bump in the road.

There were moments when he came home from school with tales of disputes or hurt feelings. My instinct was to rush in and fix everything, but I knew deep down that he needed to navigate these challenges on his own. I started taking deep breaths, and instead of jumping to fix, I became a sounding board for Tyler’s worries and frustrations, offering guidance and perspective without imposing my own solutions.


And then came the dreaded solo adventures. The first time Tyler asked if he could go out alone with his friends. My heart raced with fear. The image of him getting lost or being without me made me want to bubble wrap him and lock him in his room.

But my friend’s advice rang in my ears once more: “Let him explore, learn, and grow.” So, with sweaty palms and an outward display of calm, I gave him the green light. I reminded myself that I had raised him to be responsible and that he needed these experiences to become a confident and self-reliant individual. With his permission, I grabbed a coffee in the same mall he was in and left them to their own devices while being close enough if needed. Sometimes this journey is about compromise.

As Tyler ventured into the world, I learned to silence my anxious thoughts and trust his ability to make smart choices. It wasn’t always easy, but I knew letting go meant allowing him to stumble and fall and then being there to help him dust himself off and try again.

Through the ups and downs of this journey, I discovered that my own growth as a parent was intertwined with Tyler’s blossoming independence. I realised that my role wasn’t to shield him from the world but to equip him with the skills and resilience to navigate it on his own.

The battles and uncertainties persist as Tyler continues to grow and face new experiences. I still find myself biting my tongue, resisting the urge to intervene in his challenges and triumphs. But I’ve learned that allowing him the space to navigate his path is essential for his personal growth and development.

So, I embrace the messiness of this journey, finding solace in the laughter and humour in the occasionally missed homework (may he never know). I’ve come to understand that parenting a tween is a dance between holding on and letting go, a delicate balance that evolves as our children flourish.

And letting go isn’t a single grand gesture but a series of small steps. As I watch Tyler spread his wings and soar, I’m filled with a sense of pride and joy. Together, we’ve embarked on a shared adventure, discovering the beautiful complexity of growing up and the unbreakable bond between a parent and child.

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