When to Start Treating Your Kids Like Grownups

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You treat me like a kid.”

“Because you act like one!”

Have you ever had that conversation at your house? Teens are constantly and increasingly tugging at the reins, wanting more and more slack. Usually a parent’s next response is, “When you deserve it, I’ll give it to you.” The reality is most teens are ready for more responsibility than most parents give them and are in need of opportunities to exercise it in matters big and small.

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.

The immaturity of childhood looks at the privileges and says, “I want that! You need to treat me like an adult.” What they need to understand is that privileges, in the real world, are attached to responsibilities. If we give them the privileges, but don’t require them to live up to responsibilities, we set them up for an entitlement mentality—and for struggles in the real world.  

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.

  • Contribute to their own income by getting a job (or babysitting, etc.)
  • Manage their own money (If you contribute to their income, you can set them up with a bank account into which you make deposits. Have them budget their expenses and, if there’s too much month left at the end of the money, that’s a lesson well-learned for next month!)
  • Buy their own car (or make a significant contribution to it)
  • Do or pay for their own car maintenance. If they don’t pay for it, require them to take the car in themselves for repairs. If they’re borrowing your car, require them to fill it with gas at least once in a while, so they make the connection between car use and money spent.
  • Make their own appointments (dentist, doctor, hair, etc.). Encourage them to go to the appointment themselves, fill out the paperwork, etc. (This works better for haircuts and check ups than for things like having wisdom teeth removed.)
  • Keep track of their own calendar of appointments, schedules, deadlines, events, etc. without your constant reminders.
  • Do their own laundry.
  • Make some of the family meals.
  • Clean up the house before and after they entertain friends.

Granted, directing them rather than empowering them can be easier and more efficient in the short-term and less messy than delegating and building self-sufficiency. However, it can be counterproductive in the long run.

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. You may think things won’t be done to your standards (and they probably won’t!). 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. 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.

Arlyn Lawrence is the co-author of Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World, and What I Wish I Knew at 18: Life Lessons for the Road Ahead (available as a leadership and life skills curriculum for teens in standard and Christian editions). Arlyn is the mother of five grown children and grandmother of two. She and co-author Dennis Trittin speak and provide resources for parents, teens, educators, and mentors about building “life literacy” in children and young adults. You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter!

Image Credit: Raising Able