Accountability, Responsibility, and Freedom : Maturity With Developing Adolescents

By | July 23, 2010

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Teenagers bring with them a capacity to risk and explore their world similar to when they were toddlers. The difficulty is, most teens want the freedom of egocentric curious toddlers without the responsibility they need to bear as they are approaching young adulthood. Parents hope that as their son or daughter matures, he or she will meet developmental milestones and become more stable; making sound judgments and decisions in school, family relationships, and life overall.

“Mom, will you just leave me alone?”
In working with scores of teens and parents over the last decade I’ve found that teens are often unaware of a major misunderstanding they often espouse about what being responsible truly means. Many teens report their parents stand in the way and that things would be better if parents would extend more freedom and be less controlling, aka “just leave me alone” or “get out of my way”. Have you heard that before? Most that have teenagers or interact with them have become familiar with this pattern. In the oppositional teen, freedom being attached to choice or responsibility is incomprehensible, as teens often feel they are simply entitled to it, that simply their age entitles them to certain freedoms. If you’re a parent and you want this in your son or daughter it is imperative for you to teach them that freedom comes with a price, responsibility. Responsibility is not accountability, but the two are often confused by virtually all teens and often times many well-intentioned parents. Being accountable means owning up to what needs to be done and seeing it for what it is. Responsibility on the other hand, means not only being accountable but doing something about it, taking action.

Brain Research and Maturity
The generally accepted criteria of adulthood in western culture is understood as a three-tiered framework. Healthy adults generally accept responsibility for their actions, make independent decisions, and are financially independent. Granted, this doesn’t happen all of the time yet does happen a majority of the time in healthy seasoned adults. In fact, according to the latest brain research the prefrontal cortex of the brain is not fully formed until around 25 years old so impulse control, decision making, and executive functioning is still in-process of maturing within the brain. Ironically, in light of the aforementioned ‘definition’ as considered by theorists, many teens feel they are entitled to freedom just like their seasoned parents yet they are unwilling to take on the responsibility that comes with it.

Decision Making and School Habits
Freedom comes from responsible decision making. Freedom flows to them and rightfully belongs to them, when and if they can handle and manage their thinking and behavior responsibly. For example, freedom from pressing homework deadlines is inseparably connected to planning and study prior to the night before homework is due. Doing well academically does not befall your child no matter how much they feel entitled to it. It will not come to them until they engage in their own life responsibly first! You can guide and assist your teen and teens you know get a handle on this. When you do it can and will change the course of their study habits, weekend freedoms, relationships in the home, and in their overall social development. I’ve worked with hundreds of adolescents and have found that those who feel like they can do what they want, when they want, reap emotional headaches and relationship strife on multiple fronts. Sadly, too many teens don’t enjoy their middle school and high school years like they could if they came to understand how to live responsibly.

Parents Can Guide and Teach
Parents can facilitate their child’s understanding of freedom in several ways. Speaking with them and allowing them choices based on the level of responsiblity they show you they can maintain. Don’t give them more options than they can handle, doing so will only frustrate you and lead to more debate and argument. As a parent, you can then allow your teen to unfold and grow to be mature and responsible as they bear the weight of the choices they make. Teens can then come to know that freedom is not an entitlement based on age or norms in the neighborhood but actually an outcome of what they can handle responsibly. Speaking and parenting in this manner helps them realize that in fact their freedoms being restricted or offered are not a function of the parent but rather flow out from the level they can actually handle. Adolescents can learn deeply that from freedom flows greater responsibility and in order to amplify choices they must first begin living responsibly.

I provide parent coaching and therapy in-office or on telephone for parents to better understand their teen and then better parent them. I feel strongly that when you know better, you live better, and knowing how to parent effectively and in accordance to healthy principles you can avoid many of the derailments that parents of teens often face. I also provide counseling for pre-teens (11-12) and teens (13-19) from various high schools in Southern Utah for anxiety, depression, ADHD, addiction and relationship issues.

Copyright: No part of this article in section or full may be reproduced without permission from the author Justin Stum, MS LMFT. The one and only exception is for educational purposes and only if the contact information below for the author is fully cited here in article. Justin Stum, MS LMFT, 640 E. 700 S., Suite 103, St. George Utah 84770 435-574-9193,

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