Parenting Teenagers And The Challenge of Teaching Them Responsibility

When it comes to parenting one of perhaps the most difficult tasks we face is that of teaching responsibility and this is particularly difficult when it comes to parenting teenagers. In most cases you find yourself faced with the dilemma of trying to instill habits into your teenagers which will lead to appropriate behavior without at the same time stifling the need for them to make individual choices. Taking 'responsibility' for something simply means being the agent for some action which produces an effect that can be either bad or good. Instilling a sense of responsibility is thus very much a matter of getting your child to understand that their actions have consequences and that these consequences may affect not only their own lives but the lives of other individuals. If you are able to teach your child to make the link between her or his actions and the natural consequences of those actions then you will go a long way towards teaching responsibility.

This method is also a lot better than following the time honored, but often totally unproductive, route of simply resorting to telling your teenage children that they must or must not do something 'because I say so'. Now this is all very well but, in practice, it is usually much easier said than done. Take, for example, the teenager who is tempted to begin, or has indeed started, experimenting with drugs. The obvious consequences of this are that he is likely to graduate from 'soft' to 'hard' drugs, will become addicted and most likely begin lying and stealing, or perhaps worse, to feed his growing habit. His school work will start to suffer, as will his state of health, and at some point he will come up against the law and might well land up in jail.

However, you try to explain this to a fifteen year old who believes he is totally in control of his own life and is more than capable of ensuring that this does not happen to him. This is possibly an extreme example of the problems of teaching responsibility and one for which the solution is a little too complicated for this brief article. It is nonetheless a common problem for parents these days and one which many parents will be familiar with. At this stage however let us take a simpler, but very common problem - that of getting your teenage son to take responsibility for keeping his room clean. For many parents the answer to this problem is to withdraw privileges until the room is tidied up.

For example, when your teenage son comes home from schools, drops his bag on the floor and is just about to rush off to join his friends at the mall, you step in and stop him from venturing out until he has cleaned up his room. This frequently sets off an argument in which words such as 'not fair' feature prominently as he heads for his room slamming the door behind him. The problem here is usually that the boy has yet to make the connection between his actions in simply throwing his clothes in the corner of his room and the inconvenience which this causes you in having to go into his room and sort through the mess when it comes time to do the laundry. In addition he has yet to make the connection between the fact that you have just spent a a considerable sum of money having the wiring in the house sorted out because mice, attracted in part by the food left lying around in his room, had chewed their way through the electrical cabling. In short you have inconvenienced your son by curtailing his freedom but this is not fair because at the end of the day he is the person who has to live in the room and he does not see that it should matter to you what state the room is in. The secret is simply to educate him by helping him to make the connection for himself between the state of his room and the inconvenience that a dirty room causes you.

Once you have achieved this, withdrawing his privileges and inconveniencing him when he fails to keep his room tidy will suddenly seem to be quite fair. While teaching children to connect their actions with their natural consequences is undoubtedly the key to instilling responsibility in them, it should be remembered that the child has to be in a position to see the link between his actions and their consequences. Despite the fact that it is frequently easy for adults to see the connection, a child might not always have sufficient experience or knowledge to spot the link.

For this reason it is important to begin teaching your child responsibility from an early age so that, when problems of understanding do appear, the child will have learnt to trust you when you say that he really does not wish the consequences of whatever it is he is about to do. One final point to think about is that, just like adults, children have a degree of their own free will and, whether we like it or not, the influence that you are able to exert over your children is limited. Often the best you can do is to set reasonable expectation and, where needed, to take a firm, but not overly authoritative, position. When all is said and done you are raising a person with the ability to think for himself, stand on his own feet and exercise self-responsibility. Demonstrating a good example and showing your children the path which they should follow is as much as most parents can do. At the end of the day your children will decide for themselves whether or not they are going to follow the path which you have shown them. provides a comprehensive and growing resource of information, advice and articles on many aspects of parenting including a range of parenting tips and also provides comprehensive advice for choosing a homeschooling program

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