Teenagers, like adults, have different levels of irresponsibility that can range from laziness about chores to lying (to avoid responsibility or accountability) to violent and/or delinquent behavior. The critical questions are: what level of irresponsibility does the teenager demonstrate, how chronic is the irresponsibility and are there patterns to the irresponsibility?
Obviously, there are two rules about interventions: one, the early an intervention happens means a greater likelihood of easily stopping and reversing the behaviors, and two, the longer the behaviors continue means that greater interventions will be needed to change or stop the behavior and/or the more severe the irresponsible behavior will become.
The good news is that many teenagers grow out of their irresponsibility simply by ageing. However, not all irresponsible patterns of behavior have that light at the end of a tunnel and the end result is either incarceration or treatment programs. Many factors can influence the eventual outcome for the teenager, among them being: his/her academic performance, emotional stability, family stability, personal interests and goals, and personality variables.
Types Of Interventions
The easiest and least costly (money and time) is for parents to intervene and stop the irresponsible behavior. This may mean learning what they have been doing to unknowingly reinforce the unwanted behaviors and/or identify what stimulates the irresponsible behavior. This level of intervention is most appropriate for the mild levels of irresponsibility: laziness, ignoring directions and/or commitments, etc. This level of behavior may best be served by making a behavioral analysis. This process is something parents could do themselves with guidance from a knowledgeable person or they could consult with someone having those skills. Another option is for parents to set up a contracting system for behavior management of the teen to reward his/her appropriate behaviors (or responsibilities) with earning money in lieu of an allowance; the teen would determine his/her own income based on performance. Information about these topics is available on the Parent Modules page of the website for Parents Teach Kids. This level of intervention will most like be part of the more severe or longer-term irresponsible behaviors but will rarely make any significant change on its own.
The next level of intervention is consulting a counselor or psychologist who can act as an intermediary between the parent and the teenager. This can be expensive in terms of both money ($75-125/hour) and time for travel and the appointments. Sometimes health insurance covers these costs, but all insurance companies differ on requirements and procedures so parents would be well advised to check into their benefits before making the appointments. Counseling may or may not bring about changes and can take a long time to make any change at all. Joint counseling may be required, for many parents inadvertently contribute significantly to their teenagers’ irresponsible behaviors. For example, they may give the teen a credit card and an allowance as well as a car, yet they may not be clear on who will pay the gasoline bills on the credit card or an appropriate use of the card. This level of intervention is also recommended for teenagers who are engaging in risky behavior (including substance use and unprotected sex) or who have come into contact with the law and the logical consequences for their actions. This level of intervention will most like be part of the more severe or longer-term irresponsible behaviors but will rarely make any significant change on its own.
When the teenager’s irresponsible behavior has been long-standing and/or severe, parents will likely have few options: incarceration or a residential treatment program specializing in the teenager’s chronic problems (substance abuse, delinquency, etc.). Again, these programs may be covered by health insurance benefits and parents would be wise to consult the proper individuals to determine their benefits and limitations, referral processes, etc. The programs outside incarceration usually require parental involvement in counseling and/or behavior management skills training.
Focus On Positive Potentials
Just because your teenager doesn’t do his/her chores, it does not mean (s)he is irresponsible. Responsibility is a character trait that comes with experiences of making decisions and experiencing consequences for those decisions. When parents shield their children from the logical consequences of their behavior, they do a great injustice to the child. The child learns there is nothing that (s)he cannot do as there is no cost to the child. Sometimes the greatest teaching tool is the experiences that consequences bring. The teenager has the potential to be who and what you always dreamed him/her to be. Sometimes the entire family has to get lost in fighting their way through the unknown, personal fears and mistakes to find the wonderful person inside. Some take long than others to reveal themselves.