Teenagers don't become teenagers overnight. They go through a developmental process that begins when they are toddlers. Certainly, it is obvious that we want them to grow up. We want them to be able to take care of themselves and make wise decisions. But somewhere between the toddler and the teen, there needs to be some letting go for this to happen.

As parents, we teach our children responsibility by allowing them to do things for themselves. We make sure they can dress themselves, use the restroom properly, know how to spell their name, and treat other children with respect before they start school. Each year, we gradually give them additional responsibility enabling them to cross important milestones in their development.

Trust is extended as the child exhibits the ability to act responsibly. For example, a child who is able to use money appropriately is allowed the freedom to walk to the corner gas station by him or herself with the parent's permission. The freedom is extended as long as the child continues to act responsibly. If the parent is contacted by the store owner and told that the child walked out without paying for an item, the parent takes the child back to the store and has the child reconcile the situation. The freedom to go to the store independently is withdrawn for a time, and the child is only allowed to be at the store with the parent. Once the parent feels that the child is ready, the freedom will be extended again, with the contingency that the child act responsibly in order to keep it.

Is He or She Ready for Responsibility?

By the time children become teenagers, the responsibilities and freedoms are much more complex, however, trust must still be earned by responsible behavior. Ask these questions:

  • Does the teen finish schoolwork on time and get passing grades?

  • Is he or she able to get up in the morning and care for personal needs?

  • Are laws followed when driving?

  • Is care taken for belongings, whether purchased or given?

  • Has money been used appropriately?

All of these actions indicate that the teenager is able and willing to take responsibility for his or her own actions.


Until the teenager crosses the legal threshold, parents are responsible to society for their behavior. As such, parents have both the right and responsibility to teach and hold teenagers accountable. Teaching that freedom is hinged on the ability to act responsibly keeps them learning until the time when they are ready to leave home. Privileges such as time with friends, use of the family car, trips to other places, and having one's own electronic devices need to be hinged on the ability of the teen to make responsible personal choices.

Parents can prepare their teenagers to leave home by doing a countdown to when the legal age is reached. Prepare a checklist of items that must be completed prior to "launch," including the having following:

  • Housing

  • Adequate employment

  • Connection with financial institutions

  • Reliable transportation

  • The ability to communicate with family and friends

  • Proper medical coverage

Having all of these items in place increases the chances that the young adult will be able to support him or herself.

Trust, Freedom and Responsibility Go Together

Parents give their teenagers wings and themselves peace of mind when they teach their teens that freedom and responsibility are two sides to the same coin. You can't have one without the other! Responsible action insures that freedom will be maintained, both at home, and in society. Follow these tips to help guide your teenager into becoming a responsible, trustworthy adult.

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