One of the most difficult tasks, particularly when it comes to parenting teenagers, is that of teaching responsibility. More often than not you find yourself facing the dilemma of trying to instill habits into your children which will result in appropriate behavior but which will not at the same time stifle them when it comes to making individual choices.
Being ‘responsible’ for something means being the agent for some action which produces an effect that can be either good or bad. Teaching responsibility is thus essentially a matter of enabling your child to appreciate that every action has consequences which may affect not only their own lives but the lives of other people.
If you can get your children to make the connection between their actions and their consequences then you will be a long way down the road towards instilling a sense of responsibility into them.
This is all very well bet, in reality, it’s easier said than done. For example, take the teenager who is tempted to start experimenting with drugs. The consequences of this action are that he is likely to move from ‘soft’ to ‘hard’ drugs, will probably become addicted and begin lying and stealing to feed his habit. His work at school will start to suffer, as will his health, and he’ll eventually find himself falling foul of the law and end up in jail. Now try to explain this to a fifteen or sixteen year old who is totally in control of his own life and more than confident that this will never happen to him.
This is perhaps an extreme example of the problems experienced when it comes to teaching responsibility but it is nonetheless a common problem these days and one which many parents will know only too well.
At this point however we’ll make things a but simpler by taking another very common problem – that of teaching your teenage son to take responsibility for keeping his room clean and tidy.
Many parents approach this problem by withdrawing privileges until the room is tidied. For example, when your teenage son comes home from schools and informs you that he is off to meet his friends at the mall your response is to inform him that he is not going to be allowed to go out with his friends until he has cleaned up his room. This invariably sparks an argument in which the words ‘not fair’ are uttered several times as he heads off to his room and slams the door closed behind him.
More often the not the problem is simply that the boy has not yet made the connection between his actions in simply throwing his clothes in the corner of his room and the inconvenience that this causes you in having to go into his room and sort through the mess to do the laundry. Similarly he hasn’t yet made the connection between the fortune you’ve just spent having the exterminators in to rid the house of ants and the fact that food left lying around in his room attracted the ants in the first place.
The problem in short is that you’ve inconvenienced him by restricting his freedom but this simply isn’t fair because he’s the one who has to live in the room and he doesn’t see that it should matter to you what state it’s in.
The answer lies in educating him by helping him to make the connection for himself between the state of his room and the inconvenience that an untidy room causes you. If you can do this then withdrawing his privileges and inconveniencing him when he fails to keep his room tidy will appear to him to be quite fair.
While all of this seems quite logical, one final point to remember is that, just like adults, teenagers have a degree of their own free will and, like it or not, you are limited in the degree of influence that you can exert over your children. Often, the best you can do is to set reasonable expectation and, where it proves to be necessary, take a firm, but not too authoritative, stance.
Your goal is to raise children with the ability to think for themselves and stand on their own two feet and setting a good example and showing them the path to follow is as much as any parent can do. Ultimately, your children will decide for themselves whether or not they are going to follow the path which you have laid for them.