Responsibility is identified as the state or fact of having to deal with something, or of having control over someone. It relates to authority, power, control, leadership, influence, management and duty.
As parents we have responsibility over our teens. I like to understand it in terms that we hold a LEADERSHIP POSITION OF INFLUENCE - where we have a DUTY to PROTECT, ENCOURAGE, EDUCATE, MOTIVATE and INSPIRE those in our care.
As role models we must also use the control we have, with sensitivity and common sense - ie AUTHORITY is only something that is effective when we gain the respect and trust of the other person. Without that, our position can be seen as manipulative, intimidating, undermining, or bullying. This is a hard role to play and there are no straightforward answers for any of us sadly. What works for one child will not necessarily work for another!
On the two extreme ends of the teen spectrum we have those that cause chaos at home, in school and in their neighbourhoods. Alcohol, drugs, violence, lack of respect and a 'care-less' attitude often result in their own self destruction.
By contrast at the other end of the spectrum low self esteem, self harm, eating disorders, identity crisis etc are as equally destructive of family life and hard to witness.
So how on earth can we possibly get it right?
The first key is to acknowledge that not only do we as parents carry responsibility but so do our teens. WE have parental duty of responsibility and our teens need to be given responsibility to enable them to mature.
The important factor in getting the balance right and knowing what they need to 'be responsible for' is to understand how their brains work.
Research during the past 10 years, powered by technology such as functional magnetic resonance imaging, has revealed that young brains have both fast-growing synapses and sections that remain unconnected. This leaves teens easily influenced by their environment and more prone to impulsive behaviour, even without the impact of hormones and any genetic or family predispositions.
Frances E. Jensen, a professor of neurology at the Harvard Medical School, explains that teen brains are proven to be more susceptible than their adult counterparts to alcohol-induced toxicity. He highlights an experiment in which rat brain cells were exposed to alcohol, which blocks certain synaptic activity. When the alcohol was washed out, the adult cells recovered while the adolescent cells remained “disabled.” And because studies show that marijuana use blocks cell signaling in the brain, Jensen makes the point that what your teen did on the weekend is still with them during their test 4 days later. "They’ve been trying to study with a self-induced learning disability.”
Similarly, even though there is evidence that sleep is important for learning and memory, teenagers are notoriously sleep-deprived. Studying right before bedtime can help cement the information under review, Jensen notes. So can aerobic exercise, which reveals the importance of physical-education opportunities and sports activity.
Teens are also bombarded by information in this electronic age, and multitasking is as routine as chatting with friends on line. But Jensen highlights a recent study showing how sensory overload can hinder undergraduates’ ability to recall words. “It’s truly a brave new world. Our brains, evolutionarily, have never been subjected to the amount of cognitive input that’s coming at us,” she says. “You can’t close down the world. All you can do is educate kids to help them manage this.” Programmes aimed therefore at preventing risky adolescent behaviors would be more effective if they offered practical strategies for making in-the-moment decisions, rather than merely lecturing teens about the behaviors themselves.
By understanding brain development in our teenagers, we can hope to help them with their challenges, as well as recognise their considerable strengths.
Tools for teaching responsibility:
1. Your teen of today is the adult of tomorrow. What you don't teach now you can't do when they leave home. Write a wish list of what skills you would like them to have when they leave.
2. When it comes to chores TELLING your teen what they have to do never works! Write a list of chores for the week and ask them to decide which 2 or 3 they will do. Remember choice means empowerment (and less argument!).
3. Planning - Involve your teen in major planning events such as transport methods (can they have use of the car?), or holiday choice (do they have to come). Plan a family meeting and allow them to talk and express their views. (Have an object that can be passed around and ONLY the person holding the object is allowed to speak!).
4. Have clear expectations and boundaries attached. Ie if they go out they are to confirm the time they will be back (before they go). If they don't stick to the plan what is the consequence?
5. Trust your son or daughter. Give them a task which involves responsibility ie to take the cat to the vet, babysit a younger sibling, mow the lawn. Stretch them beyond what they feel capable of achieving.
6. Allow for consequence. Too many parents take the lunchbox to school when they leave it behind, drive them to school when they're too late to get the bus, and write a note to the teacher when the homework is not done. DON'T DO IT!! This is one of the biggest failings of parents today. Let them go hungry, allow them to walk and be late, let them get into trouble. Learning the biggest lessons comes through making mistakes. Step back and allow your teen to make mistakes or they will never grow up, never mature and will not function in the adult world.
7. Rewards. Celebrate your teen when they meet a deadline, help out unasked, do the chores etc. show you've noticed. Praise ALWAYS WORKS and the odd cinema ticket, or chat time together to show appreciation of WHO THEY ARE is a great way to build a good relationship in trust.
8. Get them to volunteer. This is always a good way to show your teen that time is valuable and that what we give is as important as what we get. It teaches value and promotes awareness outside self
8. Finally set some goals with your teen. What do they want to do? How do they want to establish it? What do they need to put into place to achieve it?
Allowing your teen the freedom to make mistakes is the biggest tool you can give when teaching responsibility. Ironically it's also the fastest way to learn. Step back. Imagine your 15 year old is 21 and respect the boundaries they need, in order o be able to separate from your wishes and desires for their life.
Good steering and guiding will allow them to find their own course and mature into the wisdom of the lessons learnt along the way!