We often want our children to take responsibility for what they do, and at the same time, we limit their responsibility. This is a balancing act that starts with us having full control over their lives in infancy to having little control over their lives as adults. Throughout the maturation process, the modus operandi, or the approach will always need to rely on four pillars: love, respect, trust, and support.
Responsibility means freedom and power. And as you give your kids more of it, you need to make sure of two things: know who they are and be sure your prepared them well. While some of us are natural born leaders and responsible, the majority of us, even those natural leaders, need to be taught and guided and groomed. The translation of that is do not expect your children to act responsibly and be held accountable if they are not ready for it, if you are not a good example for them and if they are not taught adequately.
Parents need to develop their children into autonomous thinkers and while doing so, they need to be their guardians. We are not their friends, we are their parents. You hear this often because parents can get sucked up into trying to befriend their kids, especially teenagers. Why? Because the most important people in your teenager’s world are his or her friends. So we try to be at that level. But we are not. We are here to teach and parents. So make sure you always make that clear and separate the two realties. Make sure your rules are set and that everyone in the household accepts and obeys those rules. Be consistent in their enforcement and use punishment as a last resort. Trust is a big issue with teenagers. And while we have their trust as children without question, in their teenage years, everything comes with questions. Autonomy needs freedom; freedom of thought, freedom of belief, freedom of choice. What that means or translates to are arguments, disagreements and battles. But it can also be turned into meaningful work and relationships. Make sure you involve your children in the decision making process more often than not. Just as you want to make sure they understand and obey the rules, encourage thought processes and problem solving. And give them not just the illusion of responsibility, but the true power of it. Of course that power has to be earned. So your children need to earn your trust and they need to understand that. With arguments and conflict, they need to understand why things happen the way they do. As long as those set rules are untouched, it serves you and them much more to discuss and make them understand your thought processes. Make them understand why no alcohol, why certain behaviors are unacceptable. Teach them to look out for suspicious behavior and make them understand why the suspicion is present. When you do that, something strange happens: respect.
There is no better motivator or effect on your kids than their respect for you. But that is the case with every relationship. How do you build respect? By being truthful, honest, consistent, and knowledgeable. When you do not know, let them teach you. Be open with them and at the same time, make sure you are measured in your approach, not emotional or irrational. If you make a decision, make it based on their welfare, not on your ego. This way you teach them how to think of others and be responsible for others and themselves. And when you turn them loose onto this world, support them. Always make them feel they are supported by you. Now that support is not unconditional. They need to know the difference between support and between enabling. And more importantly, so should you. Encourage dialogue and openness. And when they do make a decision, support them. When they tell you they messed up, support them and acknowledge their bravery in telling you so. It is so much easier for a teenager to hide and lie than it is to tell the truth if they feel unsupported. And perhaps the most important aspect of that comes from parental unconditional love. Children need to know they are loved. That love expresses itself in so many ways, and it needs to be reinforced always. In the end, if our children are convinced that they are loved and trusted and supported and respected, you will have taught them the ways of not only responsibility, but any other lesson you want them to know.