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Releasing Parental Control

As parents, it can be difficult to remember that worth is not determined by the choices we make. It is equally hard to let our kids fail. I love the term “fail forward” which I believe I first heard from John Maxwell many years ago. Failing forward means even though one has not achieved a hoped for outcome, s/he has learned from an experience and is able to apply that learning to future decisions. Often, to “protect” our kids (and often ourselves) from the negative consequences of their actions, we parents do our best to help ensure our teens’ successes in order to avoid the difficult, sometimes painful consequences of failing. We think we are doing what’s best for our kids, but are we? Might we be robbing our children of opportunities to learn patience, self-control, delayed-gratification, critical thinking and analysis, and unconditional love to name just a few? Each of us is a precious treasure of immense value regardless of our choices. Still, we want our kids to make the good choices. The question is, how do we teach our kids to make healthy decisions? I suggest it is by doing that thing that parents find so scary—beginning to release control.

I have found that teens need to learn the process for making healthy, educated, balanced and responsible decisions. The more practice our teens have while under parental guidance the more honed their skills will become and the healthier their decisions will be.

Here comes the hard part: Parents must allow their teens to practice, and even fail, without rescuing them and without requiring their decision to line up with the parent’s perspective. (unless, of course, harmful risk is involved), start small and work up.

In our home, spending was a major issue with one of our daughters. She loved fashion and socializing. This was a source of conflict because we operated on a single income source and even if/when we could afford her “asks”, they were not always the values we wanted to support. In eighth grade we gave her a monthly budget. Yes, you read correctly. She was in charge of all her spending as an eighth grader. In addition to tithing and saving, all her spending had to come out of that budget. Early on, she blew through her spending categories pretty quickly and complained she wasn’t given enough money. By late in the month, she found she had no money to fund needs or social opportunities that presented themselves. She had to pass on those. For every choice there is a cost. In this instance, her earlier choice(s) to spend caused her to have to forego later opportunities because she didn’t have the funds required to participate. We did not rescue her and she was not happy, but we had resolved to value the experience of consequence formed in her own decisions. Thankfully, she “failed forward”.

One day after going on a hunt for denim bibs, she discovered she didn’t have the money to purchase the very expensive pair she wanted. I witnessed her process and options, seek out alternatives and collect information. Then, the pros and cons of each option were considered. For example, if she purchased the runner-up pair of bibs—ones she would not have to save as long for and could purchase sooner—would she actually wear them or would they end up just taking up space in her closet? If she went with her expensive first choice, was she willing to delay her gratification as long as it would take to save the money and forego other purchases to get there? Ultimately, she decided to save for the expensive bibs and bought them immediately upon having the needed amount. Since this was a beginning of the month purchase, she had to put all other spending on hold for the remainder of the month. This could have been a very ugly situation, especially if she hadn’t learned from her earlier failing forward experiences. Instead, because she had done the research, identified the options, worked through the pros and cons, and then communicated and implemented her decision, she was happy. We gave her the freedom to act, heard no complaints and received no “asks” from her that month. She never regretted her decision. She felt valued and confident as those bibs became very well loved and long worn. Because she loaned them to friends, she also benefited from the pleasure that comes with sharing and giving joy to others.

My example may pertain to budgets and bibs, but the overall concepts of healthy decision-making and critical thinking are crucial life skills for teens to learn and implement for their social, sexual, and relational health. The more teens think and process, the more likely it is that they will make healthy decisions based on a healthy balance of facts and feelings.

How about it, Mom and Dad, are you ready to help sharpen your teen’s decision-making skills? I encourage you to find one thing this week that you can release to your teen. If s/he fails, enable him to fail forward by helping him to gain insight and learn from his experience so he can discern and avoid that particular situation next time. Remember, resist rescuing!

For more on this topic, check out Responsible Decision Making – Mini Course

Enjoy your teen(s). Each one is precious!

Mary Wortley

Director of Project BestLife


Healthy conversations with your teen: 


Blog Goal:The Talk With Your Teen blog encourages and equips Christian parents to have consistent, open, and meaningful conversations with their teenagers about relational and sexual health.


About us: This blog is hosted by The Joshua Center from Positive Options. The Joshua Center exists to mobilize the body of Christ to embody the Gospel as we build a culture of life in West Michigan.


Parenting teens can be challenging. We offer Biblically based social and sexual health workshops that help ground teens in God's truth and authority as they navigate a hypersexual and rapidly evolving culture focused on individualism and self-gratification. Talk with your Teen articles expand and build on these trainings by encouraging and equipping Christian parents to have ongoing conversations with their teens regarding sensitive cultural issues. For more information about our workshops, for both teens and their parents, please email

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