Parents: how many times have you heard your teen say, “You treat me like a kid!” How many times have you responded, “Well, it’s because you act like one!”?

Teens are constantly and increasingly tugging at the reins, wanting more and more slack. When teens ask to be treated like adults, what they’re really wanting are the privileges of adulthood. A car. Money in their pockets. Decision-making authority. Autonomy. Unfortunately, because of the nature of childhood (immaturity) and the tendency of some parents to rescue, pamper, and enable— that day never comes (or doesn’t come soon enough).

With summer almost over, many teens are entering “the next phase” of life, which for some recently-graduated teens looks like college or an internship, and for other teens, it’s their first year as a high school junior or senior–their last years of youth. Some teens might be entering their first year of high school and they’re ready for much more freedom (at least they think they are).
Have you ever wondered, when I am SUPPOSED to start giving them more leash?

The reality is most teens are ready for more responsibility than we give them and need opportunities to exercise it. Adults have extra rights and privileges that kids look forward to enjoying and usually want now. But remember that for adults, those privileges are usually attached to responsibility. For example:

  1. I have a car (privilege). I must earn money to fill the tank and pay the insurance and maintenance (responsibility).
  2. I can stay up (or out) as late as I want to, every night (privilege). However, I have children who need to be off to school early in the mornings, and a busy daily schedule that requires me to have enough sleep to be in top form (responsibility).
  3. I can make any decision I want to (privilege). However, I have a spouse and children (and neighbors, employers, coworkers, friends) whose lives and happiness are influenced by my decisions. Sometimes, what I want to do is outweighed by what honors and benefits others (responsibility).

What children need to understand is that privileges, in the real world, are attached to responsibilities. If we give them the privileges, but don’t require responsibility, we set them up for an entitlement mentality—and for struggles in the real world. Folks, this is a pervasive issue.

So, the next time your teen tells you he or she wants to be treated like an adult, do it! Treat him or her like a real adult—not just with privileges, though. Make sure there are responsibilities to go with them and explain the connection. You don’t need to give up full control all at once. But, you can start by requiring them to do things like:

  • Contribute to their own income by getting a job (or babysitting, etc.)
  • Buy their own car (or make a significant contribution to it) and pay for all or most of their gas
  • Make their own appointments (dentist, doctor, hair, etc.). Encourage them, as much as is appropriate and realistic, to go to the appointment themselves, fill out the paperwork, etc.
  • Do their own laundry and make their lunch
  • Clean up the house before and after they entertain friends.

If you are a parent who draws a great deal of identity and personal fulfillment from doing things for your children, it can be difficult to change your habits. You may feel like you’re being mean. But, if you want to set them up well for the launch and equip them to be happy, healthy, functioning, and successful adults, it must happen, especially now, as the school year is transitioning them to a new season (first year of college, senior year of high school, etc.). It will pay huge dividends, in the long run, to start moving now to the passenger seat and becoming more of a cheerleader/coach as your teen learns to operate in the driver’s seat of his or her life.

This is a wonderful time to check out our parenting books that can guide you and equip you as you navigate this new season of parenthood. Wings Not Strings and Parenting for the Launch can be purchased here.