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Teen Trust and Responsibility: Things to Remember

  1. Although communication between parent and teenager is extremely important, children do not necessarily develop responsible attitudes and behaviors as a result of conversation or discussion. Some teenagers first have to be helped to establish the behavior (i.e., get in the habit of doing something) and then the attitude follows.

  2. Avoid excessive lecturing, discussions, hollering, and other negative verbal interaction.

  3. State the rule and the consequence of the behavior ahead of time. By doing this, you place responsibility for the teenager's actions on his shoulders. If unpleasant things happen to him, he is the cause. Conversely, if good things happen, it is also his responsibility. Be sure to state the rule and the consequence at the same time. Avoid random disciplining and determining the consequence after a rule is broken. Tie the consequence directly to the behavior, and make the teen responsible for his rewards and pleasures, as well as his punishments and disappointments. Avoid having things happen out of the blue - that is, avoid dispensing punishments or rewards that have nothing to do with the adolescent's behavior.

  4. Try to avoid power struggles and forcing the adolescent to perform certain tasks. If you battle the teenager to make him conform to your request, you are more responsible for the task being completed than he is.

  5. Lose a few battles, but win the war. In the beginning, the important thing in developing responsibility may be not that the task is completed, but that the teenager experiences the consequences of his behavior and feels responsible for what happens to him. In some cases, getting the task accomplished may actually be the last thing the parent is trying to do. The first step is to make the youngster aware that there will be different consequences to his behavior. The second is to teach the adolescent that he is responsible for what happens to him. The third is to make the child aware that you will consistently follow through with what the teenager decides. The final thing you are trying to accomplish is to get the task completed. To reiterate: Getting the adolescent to complete the task is not as important as making him feel that he is responsible for what happens to him.

  6. After the expectations and consequences are clearly stated and the teenager makes a decision that will result either in negative consequences or in not receiving positive consequences, he may try to blame others for what has happened: for example, "It's your fault that I didn't get my license" or "You're making me miss the dance on Friday night." If the adolescent uses this tactic, simply tell him, "It was your decision. It's your responsibility. You knew what was going to happen to you before you did what you did. I'm only following through with what you told me to do."

  7. Avoid lengthy, harsh, or major consequences. Rather than have one major consequence occur, it may be better if the youngster experiences twenty small consequences.

  8. Meeting a teenager's every need or desire, giving her everything she wants, letting her have her way, spoiling her, and protecting her from experiencing the consequences of her behavior will usually interfere with the development of responsible behaviors.

  9. Do not allow an adolescent to become excessively dependent on you, and do not assume responsibility for his behavior. This type of parent-child interaction makes it difficult for children to learn independent and responsible behaviors.

  10. Giving a teenager duties and chores around the house will not by itself develop responsibility, but it will help.

  11. If an adolescent has behaved in a manner that causes you not to trust her, you must eventually give her the opportunity to reestablish the trust, by restoring some privileges and giving her some freedom. But the teenager then has to do what she says she is going to do in order for the trust to develop again. You may have to check up on her at times. Checking up does not necessarily mean that you do not trust your child, but that you are engaging in a behavior that will allow you to develop more trust in her.

From Keys to Parenting Your Teenager by Don Fontenelle, Ph.D. Copyright 2000 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by arrangement with Barron's Educational Series, Inc.

Buy the book at Barron's.

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