We say it all the time: “You can’t have that until you are responsible for what you do have!”
We quote movie lines: “With great power comes great responsibility” (Spiderman…or Voltaire, depending on who you read).
We spout parables and inspirational people: “To whom much is given, much is expected.”
And yet, we seldom actually do it in our parenting.
What is IT?
The “it” I am speaking of is the parenting practice of linking privileges with responsibility. The idea that you get more and more privileges—more and more power, if you will—as you are responsible for the privilege (and power) that you currently have.
Too often, we buy into a cookie-cutter philosophy of “age-appropriate” responsibilities for our children without even considering if they are ready for the traditional responsibilities.
- Turning one? Time to give up the bottle and binky.
- Second birthday? Better start using the potty chair.
- Five years old already? All day kindergarten it is.
- Sweet sixteen? Time to drive and date.
- Finally eighteen? College and independence are waiting for you.
These are milestones that are, in part, based on research and best practices. But not always.
For example, have you ever read the research on a sixteen year old’s brain, decision-making ability, and reaction time?
Regardless of “big” milestones, there are countless ways every day in which we fail to link responsibility with privilege and power—and our children are paying for it in over-indulgence, too many yes’s for their maturity, and lack of readiness for the next skill or stage.
How does this play out in everyday life? Have you ever heard parents make statements like the following:
- “He wanted to sit at the table with us, so we got rid of the high chair. Now she just won’t have it…can’t get her to sit at the table more than five minutes.”
- “I questioned whether he should go all day to kindergarten or wait a year, but I didn’t want him to get behind and he insisted on going. Now he cries every day and wants to stay home.”
- “I told him he couldn’t go to the game until his chores were done, but he knew I wouldn’t keep him from his game, so he just dilly dalleyed until it was time to go.”
- “My husband didn’t want her to get her license because she wasn’t obeying very well in other matters, but everybody else was, so we said yes. Now she never comes home on time. I wish we had waited for the license until she was more mature.”
All of those scenarios (and actually more parenting problems than we realize) can be avoided by “practicing what we preach” (or quote!).
That is, by doing what we say is best: Looking at each child individually and focusing on what he or she is ready for in each area before we “widen the boundaries” for that child.
It isn’t hard to figure this out—it is so practical, so common sense (and so what the Bible teaches, what employers do, and how life really works).
But following through on it is another matter.
Here are some tips for carrying this out:
1) Change your vocabulary. Don’t say “later” or “we’ll see.” Instead say, it depends on your responsibility. We used to tell our youngest (by far, the hardest child to do this with is the youngest—in spite of all of our experience!), “When your responsibility level is up to your ability level, we will talk about it again.” In other words, we know you can do it (have the ability to), but you have to be responsible enough to do it as well.
2) Change your way of thinking. Stop looking at man-made benchmarks as being universal. There is the “norm” for these things, yes, but statistics class aside, these benchmarks (potty training, driving, etc.) are universal benchmarks. You are not parenting for the universe; you are parenting each of your children. (Also, try to change your children’s way of thinking. While there is something to be said for kids looking forward to something happening at a certain age, how much better would it be for the to look at something happening at a certain level of responsibility as opposed to an arbitrary number.)
3) Verbalize your criterion often. Don’t leave your child in the dark on when he will be able to do something. Give him guidelines—you will be able to get your license when you do these things (and I’m not talking about passing driver’s ed at school!). He or she should know what you expect of him at all times in order to….(get her own room, drive, stay up later on a week night, babysit younger siblings…whatever it is).
4) Follow through on linking responsibility to privilege. It is one thing to talk about how they are linked; it is another thing to carry it out. Once you have made your expectations known (and maybe even written them out –-hear my “Handling Heart Behaviors of Tweens” here to find printables to write out some of these behavior expectations and listen to “Character Training of Routine Behaviors” tomorrow for more info), be sure you follow through.
Linking privilege with responsibility in real life isn’t easy. It might be tough to say no to something now, but how much more rewarding it will be for the child to know that he is getting that privilege based solely on his behavior/responsibility. And much more secure you will feel in giving him the privilege when you know he is truly ready for it.
So go! Go do this. Because “With great power comes great responsibility.”