Holding Teenagers Accountable for their Behavior

Do you enable your teenager's poor behavior?

Do you enable your teenager’s poor behavior?

A woman I know named Mary had a teen son with anxiety issues.  Things escalated with him and he began to refuse to go to school. Eventually, he was placed in an outpatient program through a psychiatric hospital and also attended group sessions with other anxious kids.  His life improved and he returned to school.  However, a few months later he began skipping school again. The woman decided to get some help for herself.  After learning some important things she began to realize that she had been contributing to her son’s anxiety issues. Mary was able to see that she had always seen her son as ‘fragile’ and treated him that way. She had ‘let him off the hook’ over and over again throughout his life, thinking he was incapable of being responsible, towing the line, learning from his mistakes. Her vision of him was a weak one, and it was very perceptible to him and others. Therefore, his vision of himself was a weak one, creating lots and lots of anxiety within his psyche.

Holding Kids Accountable Sends them a ‘Can Do’ Message

When she learned that holding him accountable by giving him consequences, seeing him as capable, giving him the ‘can do’ message would be the greatest gift she had to offer, she did it. She became consistent, followed through and no longer treated him as if he were a weakling.  Slowly, he became happier, much less anxious and a teen with stronger self-esteem.

Later, this mother reported that self exploration had led her to discover some underlying reasons for her perception and her treatment of him.

  • She didn’t like giving him consequences and seeming like a ‘bad guy’, as they had a nice, cohesive relationship and she feared giving him consequences would make him “not love her anymore”.
  • She was a person that did not like conflict. When she tried to hold him accountable, he became angry and upset. She avoided his upset at all cost, not realizing the true cost of allowing him to get by with things.
  • At a deep level, she needed him to need her. It was satisfying to her when he couldn’t do without her.
  • She also had thought his weaknesses would just go away on their own,  he would grow out of them.  With the inner work she realized she had held him back by seeing him as weak and helpless.  And by seeing him as a victim of his ‘disabilities’ she had locked him into a life sentence with a low probability of him being successful in life.

We don’t do anyone any favors by feeling sorry for them. When we have pity for someone we care a lot about, we often enable them.  By enabling them we actually disable them!

How to Stop Enabling Your Child

If you have a loved one you have been enabling, here are the steps you can take change your behavior.

1. Stop fixing their problems

2. Allow things to get worse (which is part of the process when you stop enabling.)

3. Drop the guilt

4.  Empathize rather than sympathize.

~ Happy Parenting!

Amy Egan - Ask Amy Column - North Texas KidsAmy Egan is a parenting consultant and life coach. She coaches privately, loves to speak to parent organizations and hosts several weekly life coaching groups for women and moms. If you are interested in private or group coaching contact Amy at a.egan518@sbcglobal.net or Like her parenting page on Facebook. Amy Egan – Texas Parenting.


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