The teenage years, while full of growth and self-discovery, can also be a difficult time for parents. In these crucial years when children form their adult persona, how can parents teach them the elusive quality of responsibility?
Unfortunately, the nature of responsibility involves doing the very opposite of what a parent naturally wants to do, which is to teach their kids how. Responsibility, in and of itself, means taking something upon yourself; to hold yourself accountable. As long as the parents hold themselves entirely accountable, the teen cannot.
The Importance of Consequences
Deep inside parents is the urge to safeguard their children. It is natural. However, for a teen to really begin to learn what responsibility means, he or she must realize that there are consequences to his/her actions. Without consequences, life is a game; when consequences are real, life also becomes real, and responsibility is the only response. Teach that consequences can extend far beyond the irresponsible action, impacting the rest of their life. Destructive and dangerous behaviors, like vandalism and using drugs or alcohol, must be avoided to maintain one’s legal autonomy and reputation. Warn your teen of the dire consequences of property damage and driving under the influence—learn more about these so you can share the most accurate information possible. Your teen will appreciate the honesty and straightforwardness (not immediately, in most cases, but eventually) and will hopefully take these warnings to heart.
They Must be Allowed to Fail and Feel It
We all wish we could shelter our kids from all painful experiences forever, but the reality is that the world is not so kind. They are going to undergo pain: the sting of rejection, the nausea of disappointment, and the sorrow of realizing you’ve messed up. We cannot shield them for forever.
We can teach them how to bear it; to recover and move on and become a better person when these things do happen. If we allow them to fail (in smaller things, where life and limb are not at stake), we allow them to realize that they can get back up when we fall down, no worse for the wear.
What does this mean in the short term? Only you know your family, but here are a couple ideas:
- Don’t remind them to do chores. Set the consequences and stick to them.
- If they cause damage to someone else’s property, make them replace it (within reason).
- Allow them to buy their own smartphone! They’ll be a lot more careful with it if it they used their own paycheck.
By far, the most important thing you can do for your teen is to show them you love them. By allowing them to shoulder some weight, they learn a bit about what you do for them, and it can lead to much healthier and more loving relationships.