Parenting Teenagers And The Dilemmas of Teaching Them Responsibility
One of the most difficult tasks, especially when parenting teenagers, is to teach your children to take responsibility for their actions. However, an understanding of the mechanics of learning responsibility from the child's perspective will go a long way towards making this job easier.
When it comes to parenting one of the most difficult tasks is that of teaching responsibility and this is especially difficult when it comes to parenting teenagers. Invariably you find yourself faced with the dilemma of instilling habits into your teenagers that will lead to appropriate behavior while at the same time not stifling the need for them to be able to make individual choices.
Being 'responsible' for something means simply being the agent for some action that produces an effect which can be either good or bad. Teaching responsibility is therefore very much a case of getting your child to understand that every action has consequences and that these consequences may affect not only their own lives but the lives of others.
If you can teach your child to make the connection between his or her actions and their natural consequences then you will be a long way down the road towards teaching responsibility. This approach is also far better than following the time honored, but frequently totally unproductive, route of simply resorting to telling you teenagers that they must or must not do something 'because I say so'.
This is all well and good but, in practice, it's often easier said than done. Take, for example, the teenager who is tempted to start, or has indeed started, experimenting with drugs. The obvious consequences of this action are that he is quite likely to move from 'soft' to 'hard' drugs, will become addicted and probably start lying and stealing, or worse, to feed his habit. His school work will begin to suffer, as will his health, and eventually he'll fall foul of the law and probably end up in jail. But you try explaining this to a sixteen year old who feels that he's totally in control of his life and more than capable of ensuring that this doesn't happen to him.
This is perhaps an extreme example of the problems of teaching responsibility and one for which the solution is perhaps a little too complex for this short article. It is nonetheless a common problem for parents these days and one which many parents will recognize.
At this stage however let's take a simpler, but extremely common problem - that of getting your teenager to take responsibility for keeping his room clean and tidy.
For many parents the answer to this problem is to withdraw privileges until the room is tidied. For example, when your teenage son comes home from schools, dumps his bag and is about to rush out to join his friends at the mall, you step in and stop him from going out until he has cleaned up his room. This more often than not sparks an argument in which the words 'not fair' feature prominently as he heads for his room and slams the door behind him.
The problem here is often 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 that this causes you in having to go into his room and sort through the mess when it comes time to do the laundry. Similarly he hasn't made the connection between the fact that you've just spent a fortune having the wiring in the house sorted out because mice, attracted by the food left lying around in his room, have chewed through the electrical cabling.
In short you've inconvenienced him by restricting his freedom but this simply isn't fair because at the end of the day 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 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 an untidy room causes you. Once you do this, withdrawing his privileges and inconveniencing him when he fails to keep his room tidy will suddenly be seen as quite fair.
While teaching children to connect their actions with their natural consequences is certainly the key to instilling a sense of responsibility in them, it should be remembered that the child must be in a position to understand the connection between his actions and the consequences. Although it is often easy for an adult to see the connection, a child may not always have sufficient knowledge or experience to make the connection. For this reason it is important to start teaching your child responsibility at an early age so that, when problems of understanding do arise, the child will have learnt to trust you when you tell him that he really doesn't want the consequences of whatever it is he is about to do.
One final point to remember is that, like adults, children have a degree of their own free will and, like it or not, the influence that you can exert over your children is limited. The best you can often do is to set reasonable expectation and, where necessary, to take a firm, but not overly authoritative, stance. At the end of the day you are raising an individual with the capacity to think for himself and to stand on his own two feet and exercise self-responsibility.
Setting a good example and showing your children the path to follow is as much as any parent 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 laid out for them.
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