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  • Writer's pictureDr. Jon

The Response to Responsibility


By Ryan Lefler, MA


If you are a parent, I am sure that you want nothing more than to instill responsibility into your child. I am also sure that most of us prefer to be called responsible as opposed to the alternative. The number of conversations I have with adolescents and their parents on the subject of responsibility has begged the question, “What is responsibility and what role does it actually play in our everyday life?” It is only natural that our view of responsibility changes throughout our lives, as we age and the necessity for it grows. However, time after time, parents consult with me, wishing their child would be more competent in their responsibilities. Since I do not have a magic wand to wave (although my job would be much easier if I did), I cannot make an adolescent more responsible.


Instead, I have seen great success in helping people change their perspective of what responsibility is, the role it plays in relationships, and how it can lead to a more successful life. While this article will focus on the dynamic of responsibility between parents and their kids, it can also be applied to an array of areas such as individual life, in the work place, or any place you expect responsibility to be fostered.


Two common gripes from parents is that homework and chores are not being completed or that it is like pulling teeth to get compliance out of the angst in their households. Phones and other privileges are constantly taken away, but only to find an angrier child, not a more responsible one. Before I explain the adolescent perspective of responsibilities, I have a question for parents and leaders of any type: "What is the reward for responsibility?". We often demand responsibility, but have you ever asked why someone should listen and act on those demands? As I begin my quest to instill responsibility into my clients, it always starts with the same few questions: 


“Do you wish for people to view you as responsible?” 


“Yes.” 


“Do you believe you are responsible?” 


“I think so.” 


“Well, that’s great! What is responsibility?” 


And the crickets begin to chirp as a wide-eyed middle schooler stares at me with a fearful smile on their face. I then help them break down what responsibility actually is. Over the course of several questions, we eventually uncover the most generic but accurate statement about responsibility there is. Responsibilities are the things that you, more often than not, do NOT want to do. Ah ha! We have figured out why so many parents struggle with getting their kids to be responsible. They just don’t want to do it! While this sounds silly, the truth of it takes us back to the question I previously asked. Why would someone do things they don’t want to do? What is the reward for responsibility?


Freedom. 


Freedom is the reward for responsibility. The more freedom you have to control your own life, the more responsibility you have to endure. A kindergartner has zero freedom in their life and simultaneously has zero responsibility. On the other hand, if you were to be dropped off in the middle of the woods with nothing but yourself, you would have complete freedom to act as you wish, but also one hundred percent responsibility to maintain your life. It is amazing how quickly a person’s mindset and motivation changes once they understand this concept.


I want to paint a picture that will resonate with parents and teens alike. Most people believe that responsibility is a slow process where you steadily gain more throughout life. In reality, responsibility is gained in major leaps here and there. In our teenage years, small doses of responsibility are added into our life and with that comes some limited freedom. But all of that changes with one major life event – the ability to drive. The day a person can drive is the day freedom skyrockets. We gain the ability to go where we want, when we want. This allows us to drive to places to shop, eat the food we want, or hangout with anyone. In the blink of an eye, we have significantly more freedom and significantly more responsibility. We must now obey laws, pay money for gas, which requires us to earn money by working, adhere to work schedules and rules, and the chain reaction continues.


In the end, parents want their kids to be more responsible and kids want more freedom. The misunderstanding is in believing that these are separate things. The reality is that responsibility and freedom operate on the exact same scale. Parents cannot expect their children to become responsible if at the same time they are starving them of the small amount of freedom they earn. No one enjoys being told to do things over and over again with no reward. And when you allow them to decide their reward, you are allowing more freedom and responsibility.


Let them make choices as the benefit of responsible behaviors. To the adolescents reading this, you cannot expect to gain any amount of freedom or independence if you cannot accomplish the small responsibilities in your life. If you want to prove to your parents that you can be trusted in doing the things you want to do, you must also prove that you can be trusted in doing the things you do not want to do. Responsibility is scary, but by its very nature it is the gateway into living the life that we choose.

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