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Back to School: Beginning to Let Go

How soon should we begin letting go of our kids? 

Some might wax poetic at that question; others get really practical. 

Do we start letting go the moment they’re out of the womb, or when they go to preschool for the first time (like my youngest will do in a few weeks)? Or is it at the start of middle school, when adolescence creates new needs for individuation?  Or do we start letting go when they pack up and move away to college or the military? 

One of the fun parts of my job this summer is interviewing parents for a new research project we share about in this video.  Last week I was talking with some parents from the Midwest who were telling me about how they have lived faith out in their family. 

The mom added something especially insightful at the end of the interview. She said that this summer she and her oldest daughter—who is about to be a junior in high school—have been running together (her daughter is a cross-country runner).  On these summer runs, the mom has been intentional to begin to talk with her daughter about what life will be like beyond high school. She’s asking questions and listening to her daughter’s questions. As a result of these conversations, the parents are also beginning to navigate allowing their daughter to make more and more decisions on her own. 

In short, they’re beginning to let go. 

And they have two more years before college. 

Contrast this with a recent study noting the difficulty parents often have with letting go, and vice versa. In fact, the study found that half of 18-29 year-olds are in daily contact with their parents. One third of this age group wishes their parents were less involved in their lives. 

Take that alongside this finding that 90% of colleges and universities now have some kind of parent farewell event to pull parents apart from their freshmen children once they’ve moved in to campus. In the words of one campus administrator whose job revolves around dealing with helicopter parents: 

"Our job is to take the gas out of the helicopter, so that by the time their children become seniors, that helicopter is grounded, and students can take care of themselves." 

A worthy goal. 

If you’re a parent, how are you beginning to let go this year? If you’re a youth ministry leader, how are you helping parents navigate this journey?


Brad M. Griffin

Brad M. Griffin is the Associate Director of the Fuller Youth Institute, where he develops research-based training for youth workers and parents. A speaker, blogger, and volunteer youth pastor, Brad is also the coauthor of Sticky Faith ​and Deep Justice Journeys. A native Kentucky youth pastor, Brad now lives in Southern California with his wife Missy and their three children.

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