Responsibility:  The state or fact of being accountable for something.

In recent weeks, many teens have ended up spending more and more time in their bedrooms, alone with their phones.  With no sports or school functions, parents have found little to motivate or inspire their teens to take action.  

Yet, spring has sprung, and summer is upon us.  And most homes abound with tasks that are sitting there just waiting.  On whom?  Well, in today’s world, it’s usually mom or dad.  We do all the light, moderate and heavy lifting of responsibilities while our kids demand a new iPhone after they drop it.  So, what’s the problem?

1) We Over-Function While Our Children Under-Function With Responsibilities

It’s natural to want your kids to be happy. However, many parents have created a world where we not only want our children to be happy, but we end up doing all the work to try to make them happy.  In doing so, we not only sign them up for constant entertainment, sports, and friends, but we then compensate by taking on all of life’s responsibilities. 

Just this week, one client complained about her depressed 15-year-old son.  He is alone in his room, playing hours upon hours of video games until 5 am.  Then, asserts to mom, that ‘the only thing that makes me happy is playing video games with friends.’  Thus, she leaves him to his gaming. Lets him get up at 3 pm, and begs him to share a meal with her.  If she tries to set limits, he throws a tantrum and screams about how SHE is making him depressed.  

Similar scenarios are being repeated in millions of homes.  Perhaps some of you may see this as extreme.  However, it is not.  

For many families, children are being trained and conditioned to believe that Mom and Dad will do almost everything to keep them happy.  In addition, every word from the child or teen is taken as true, and never viewed within the context of the emotion of the moment.  In this case, the son is upset when mom tries to turn off his gaming at 1 am.  He tantrums.  Says ugly things.  She believes him and relents.  This is a bad plan!

2) Children and Teens Don’t Just Grow Into ‘Responsibility.’

Since years and years of training are involved as children grow up, they develop an expectation that is very hard to change later in life. They often become teens or young adults expecting that they should get what they want without any effort attached to their desires.  

This is not teaching responsibility. In fact, it is the opposite.  It is teaching ‘irresponsibility.’

Not only is negligible effort required, but they learn that complaining, whining, and tantruming are indulged when they don’t get what they want.  Even worse, they will harass Mom or Dad until they get it.   Like the young man above, they may learn that putting their misery onto mom or dad will then get them everything they want.  

In other words, complaining and making others (i.e., mom/dad) responsible for my misery is rewarded.  And demands to step up are abandoned.  

Let’s be real: How is this ever going to work out well?  What are we teaching in such moments?  Is there any way to learn about taking responsibility for oneself?

3) Irresponsible Children Come From Irresponsible Parenting

Let’s be clear: Many parents in such situations are very responsible citizens, as well as being responsible and active members of their community.  That’s not it. 

They believe they are being responsible for their children, and thus they continue.  Yet, they step over that magic line where everything goes south, and they do it day after day.  What is that magic line?  It is resident in this simple question: 

Who is working harder at their life…child or parent?

While more is to be said about this, let’s keep it simple.  The moment life starts to teach me that someone else will work harder at my happiness, then who is to blame when I am unhappy?  Whose job is it to give me what I want, if I assert that ‘I need that to be happy?’  

The moment life teaches me that someone will work harder than me at getting my homework done, then who is at fault when I fail?  Whose job is it to make sure it gets done?  

The moment life teaches me that someone else will work harder at replacing my iPhone after I tantrum, then who will I expect to fix things when I throw a fit?  When my room is a pigpen, whose job is it to clean it up?  

From emotions to friends, to homework to taking care of my environment, responsibility for these critical components are taught through experience.  If a child, teen, or young adult gets conditioned to believe that mom or dad will work harder at fixing their life to meet their standards, then misery awaits.   

And this misery is predictably filled with a lack of responsibility.  

The Bottom Line:  We teach responsibility by requiring responsibility.  This is just common sense, right? Practically, this means we do not work harder at their life than they do.  We do everything a loving, responsible parent should do, but no more.  We hold them accountable for doing tasks/chores/responsibilities that they are capable of doing, and make sure we do not save them when they are miserable and complaining about a bit of work.  Here are some examples:

  • We don’t have them balancing the checkbook when they are 8.  We do have them balancing their checkbook at 16.  
  • We don’t have them prepare a five-course meal, but we do have our teenagers making their own sandwiches. 
  • We do not buy a new iPhone when they dropped theirs in the pool. We do offer them extra work to earn money for a new phone and let them go without while they work hard.
  • We don’t let them play video games without limits.  We set limits and let them be unhappy as they adjust. 
  • If they just whine and complain all the time about life, when objectively life is good… we ignore this completely.  Why?  Because in the responsible world, healthy employers, friends, and family will walk away from repeated complainers and whiners.    

If we do not hold them accountable for developing responsible habits, how would we expect them to learn about being responsible?  It is virtually impossible!  You can turn this around.  Just start today!