You may be asking yourself: At what point do I start to tackle accountability vs. responsibility with this whole person who is changing and growing right before my eyes?
As your child develops into a teenager, he or she will not go straight from “child” to “teenager.” There is a tween (or preteen) stage in between the two.
Responsibility vs. Accountability
Just as infants don’t go from 100% dependent upon you to walking around, asking for what they need, a tween needs help moving along that bridge between childhood and being a full-fledged teenager. A baby needs to sit up, crawl and babble sounds before she can learn to walk or talk. And a tween needs to understand responsibility vs. accountability and how it impacts not just her life but also the lives of those around her.
This discovery process can be awkward and challenging at times, but as a parent, your role is to provide stability and measured opportunities.
Your role in parenthood during the tween years is to recognize the need your tween will have for more independence. He may think he is ready for more, and as a parent you may struggle to know: Is he really ready to do ________ on his own?
As you see this push and pull between still wanting (on some days) to play with toys, and on other days, wanting to hang out with friends alone or be dropped off somewhere without you, you’ll know you have arrived at your destination of tweenhood. And your job is to provide the stability that your in-between child/teen needs.
One day your child may seem ready to take on the rigors of owning a pet, and the next day she can’t seem to put away her backpack or push her chair in at the table. How do you provide stability during this season of transitions?
By giving over a little responsibility before you may feel like your child is ready.
The word “measured” placed strategically before the word “opportunities” simply means: I give a little bit of responsibility to my tween — not all of it.
Still, it needs to be a real opportunity to show that he or she is responsible, not “you get to pick the color placemat we’re using at dinner.” This ownership that you are essentially letting go of needs to be:
1. A real opportunity that is a need in your family system or in your tween’s school/homework system.
Chores do count here, but they need to be something additional that your child has not already been doing for a while. This new measured opportunity needs to be something that actually removes responsibility from your plate.
For example, if you help your tween know that the added opportunity to rake the front lawn each Saturday means that his dad can cut the grass sooner and quicker (and therefore has more time to spend doing fun things with the family), he wins in two ways. He gets to try on a new opportunity (to prove responsibility) and he gets to understand that his part is a small piece of the larger puzzle. His help with the yard work means the team works smarter, not harder.
2. You need to hand off this opportunity gradually.
Just as you wouldn’t leave your 5-year-old in the bathroom with instructions to “clean the toilet” (who knows what would happen?!), you do not want to simply set your tween loose to accomplish this newfound task or responsibility you’ve placed before him or her.
A gradual hand-off involves:
- Modeling how the opportunity gets done right now. (You actually need to show him or her how it gets done, even if it is something you think your tween should already know.)
- Teaching your tween how the opportunity is performed. Now that you have shown him or her how it’s done, you can teach it. Whether you create a system of small steps to remember or a checklist, giving your tween a method of learning (or helping him discover which method he prefers) is helpful.
- Watch your tween try to practice this newfound opportunity as you do the job together. If it’s a household opportunity such as cooking dinner, you especially need to be doing it together to ensure the safety of your child and others in the household. But even if it’s simply raking the yard, you can do it together. This allows your input when he hits roadblocks, has a question, or he tries to cut corners. You can “catch” all this if you are doing it together and gently reroute the methods or answer questions.
- Let your tween try on the new responsibility while you simply oversee and/or check it.
- Go back and review with him or her how it’s done (maybe he or she can tell YOU how to do the added job). Make corrections as needed, and don’t forget to encourage him or her in what was done well.
Responsibility vs. accountability simply means your child needs a chance to learn (and fail) in a safe place where accountability isn’t going to cost him much yet. So try to think through what your preteen may be ready for and may not be ready for — and don’t penalize him or her steeply if he or she wasn’t ready. It’s a learning curve for you both to assess where he is capable and where he needs help.
This is why we want to give our kids measured opportunities to see what they do with them. Practicing it now will prepare your child for more responsibility in the future.
Finally, letting your child grow in his responsibility or independence involves letting him into some of the real decisions your family needs to make. It could be that you have a vacation to take and you want to allow him or her to give valuable input into the options.
In closing, think about how you can be intentional to help your tween as his independence grows. It’s natural for him to want more independence at this age, so try not to take it personally if his idea of fun is not hanging out with you as much. Keep in mind that the stability you provide as his parent is a key component of him being able to grow and develop well.
Questions to Consider:
- What are some household, ministry, or educational responsibilities that you could hand over gradually to your tween?
- How can I allow my tween to make more decisions or be included in more decisions?
- What is age-appropriate now, and where would I want my children to be with decision-making and independence when they enter high school?
In part two of this series, we will look at how tweens manage their emotions.