Practice makes perfect - especially in music. We parents hear a child practice, make mistakes, practice, make some more mistakes. But eventually, with enough practice, they get it right, and we jump for joy. The same is true for decision-making. With enough practice, your child can learn to become a good decision-maker, and to become mature, responsible, and trustworthy.

Handing over some control, and setting good boundaries is essential to fostering maturity in your teen. However, we parents often don’t realize that unless we allow our child to take full responsibility for their behavior by facing consequences, our teenagers will remain immature. I deal with this constantly in my work with struggling teens and their parents, who wonder why their teen is so out of control.

At the heart of this issue is one central theme - consequences. If you wonder why teenagers behave irresponsibly, well, it’s because they are irresponsible. And, they will not become responsible or mature, or wise, until they engage in the process of dealing with the consequences of their choices and behavior.  It is a cycle that needs to happen over and over before a teen comes to full maturity.

Sometimes a parent says, “Wouldn’t it be best to wait until I trust my child till I give them more responsibility or control, then they won’t have such difficult consequences?” My answer is that if you wait until you trust them, you will never give them any responsibility. You never will. And, they won’t learn how to face consequences and learn from them, or the consequences do face late on will be of a much more serious nature.

Don’t Wait…Start Early

Building responsibility and good decision-making takes practice, and you have to start earlier than you think. It is a learned process. As the writer of Hebrews says, “But solid food is for the mature, who, because of practice (constant use) have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” Hebrews 5:14

Start by giving responsibilities early.  Give them a checkbook in the sixth grade. Give them a debit card with their allowance on it so they learn early how to manage it. Get an alarm clock and let them wake themselves up for school every morning. Let them keep a calendar and be responsible to let you know in advance when they need transport to and from events. Then, don’t take them if you don’t discuss it in advance. The consequence of not communicating about the calendar is, “you don’t get to go.”

When they begin driving, agree to periodically put money on a gas card. Then when they prematurely run out of their gas allowance, don’t give them more. I guarantee it will be the last time they run out. In the process they will figure out how to manage their gas money.

The idea here is to stop helping teenagers so much - not the way you have helped them when they were younger. While a major responsibility of good parenting is certainly to control and protect our children, parents must make room for their older children to make mistakes. You help a teen best by letting them deal with the natural results of their decision, and then letting them figure out how to get back up.

In most cases, a parent takes control because they see an absence of a child’s self-control and there is a display of immaturity and irresponsibility. Parents of troubled teens often feel forced into the mode of over-control.

Avoiding Over-Control 

Over-control happens when otherwise loving parents protect their children from the consequences of their mistakes, or by having too-strict rules and limits (Example: Not wanting them to be with others for fear of them learning bad habits, getting hurt, etc.)

Over-controlled children are more likely to have problems with peer dependence, relationship enmeshment conflicts and difficulty setting and keeping firm boundaries. They may also have problems taking risks and being creative.