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Freedom & Responsibility: What’s the right amount of responsibility for a teenager?

At Sundance Canyon Academy, we talk to a lot of families who want their teens to develop more responsibility. This article is part of a series designed to help parents understand the correlation between freedom and responsibility. If your teen son has trouble following through with any of his responsibilities, he may need additional help. Many teens with learning disabilities or behavioral disorders have an especially tough time with responsibility. Contact us today to find out if our school could benefit your son.

It can be tough to know what the right amount of responsibility is for a teenager. You don’t want to overload them, but you don’t want to baby them either. You want your teens to grow into responsible adults who can manage their own lives.

Still, you don’t want to put so much pressure on them that they constantly feel overwhelmed.

How can you strike the right balance?

Teens who struggle in school and at home often don’t understand how to balance all of their responsibilities. As parents, it can be tough to know how much they can handle before you have to swoop in and lend them a hand or offer some direction. When you constantly worry that your son won’t do what he needs to or constantly fixing things for him, you can easily become overwhelmed and frustrated.

As a parent of a teen, you are not alone in these feelings or struggles. Plenty of parents are trying to figure out how to help their teens become more responsible. It’s not an easy task, but it’s worth it.

Giving the right amount of responsibility to your teenager

As always, it’s essential to understand that your teenager is unique. Sure, they might do all the typical stuff you expect of a teen, but they do it their own way. When you start to give your teen more responsibility, it’s important that you treat them like an individual. What worked for your other kids might not work as well for this one.

Establishing “forever” rules

One big step in giving your kids responsibility is making sure that they know what’s expected of them. As they grow up, your expectations will likely change. You wouldn’t give your 7-year-old the same responsibility (or freedom) as your 15-year-old. Your 15-year-old should be able to do more, and they should have more expected of them.

No matter their age though, there are a few rules in your home that won’t change no matter how old they are.

Growing up, did your parents ever give you some “while you’re living under my roof” rules?

These are the rules that won’t change. These are forever rules. Following these rules is the basic foundation of responsibility for your kids. They need to know precisely what these rules are and how to follow them.

Establish age-based expectations

As your kid grows up, your expectations for them will change a bit. You know your teen best, so you get to determine what is expected of them. When they were little, maybe you just had them put their dirty clothes in the hamper but not actually do a load of laundry. Now that they’re getting older, are they capable of doing laundry?

If not, ask yourself why not and work backward from there. Establish why your teen isn’t currently capable of doing what you need them to do. Then, determine if it’s worth the hassle to prepare them to do it.

Working backwards to determine this can look like asking yourself some targeted questions.

For example:

Is my teen capable of doing laundry? No.

Why not? They have no idea how the washer works or how much detergent to use.

Is this something I can teach them? Yes, but it will be a hassle to teach them. They’ll probably get it wrong a few times and might make a mess.

Is it worth the hassle?

If you want your teen to do something that they can’t currently do, you have to be willing to put in the work to teach them. They will probably make mistakes, and you’ll have to help them learn from those mistakes. It’s a tough process, but it will help them develop more responsibility as they get older.

Establish consequences linked to their responsibility

Establish both positive and negative consequences linked to your teen’s responsibilities. Remember, teens learn more from positive reinforcement than they do from punishments. That’s not to say that punishment or discipline is never needed, just that it shouldn’t be your primary source of motivation.

Your teenager needs to understand the differences between meeting their responsibility, not meeting their responsibility, and exceeding their responsibility. As a parent, you can establish consequences for all three scenarios.

For example, your established expectation is that your son maintains passing grades in school.

  1. Not meeting his responsibility: He fails a class. He gets grounded from his phone.

  2. Meeting his responsibility: He barely passes every class. Nothing changes.

  3. Exceeding his responsibility: He gets As and Bs in some classes. He receives the extended curfew he’s been wanting.

Just like in adulthood, your teen needs to know that meeting or exceeding his responsibility is worth the effort. Help him learn to correlate following through with responsibility and giving more freedom.

If your son refuses to follow through with his responsibility, even with positive or negative consequences, you may need extra help. It might be tempting to send him to a military school or bootcamp, but those won’t address the root issue. Teens who struggle with responsibility need to learn how their actions impact others and how their choices affect their future. Contact us at 866-640-1899 to learn more about our residential treatment center for teen boys.

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