Responsibility and Accountability
Responsibility and accountability differ in one significant way. Responsibility means dedicating yourself to the completion of a specific task. That task can be either long or short term. For example, long-term responsibilities would be to raise healthy, productive children. Examples of short-term responsibilities could be getting to work on time, finishing homework, or reading my book, Spotting Danger Before It Spots Your Teens, Accountability, on the other hand, is taking ownership of the results of that duty. Perhaps you never take the responsibility of getting to work on time seriously. Suppose down the road you’re passed up for a promotion, or even worse, fired. In that case, that’s a consequence of your lack of responsibility, and you are the sole person accountable for that.
When parents teach their teens to be responsible and hold them accountable for their actions, they’re helping them develop into caring, conscientious adults. Without these traits, both teens and adults become complacent and dependent. They tend to blame others for the outcomes they experience and look for ways to avoid their obligations. Not only obligations to their family, their school, or their job, but to themselves, and that can be a very dangerous quality when it comes to personal safety.
No one grows in their personal lives without accountability. Teenagers who are just starting to realize some of the negative consequences of their actions may tend to blame others, refuse to follow rules they find unfair, or find ways to justify their behavior regardless of its impact on others. All of this can add to tension and discomfort at home and severely strain the parent/teen relationship. Before we can have useful discussions about situational awareness and personal safety, both teens and parents must be willing and able to recognize their flaws. As an adult, it’s crucial to your teen’s development that you find ways to instill accountability.
Parents Need to be Accountable
Parents have to be held accountable as well. If your teen stays out too late or breaks one of the house rules, take a look at the events leading up to that action. Was there effective communication between you and your teen regarding your expectations? Did you adequately emphasize the repercussions your teen would face by neglecting the rules? Did your teen understand the left and right limits you had set earlier? If you’re unsure about any of these questions, own up to the fact that you may be partly responsible for the lack of communication. Your teen’s safety is dependent on you setting a positive example and clearly articulating what’s expected of them.
Teen in Action
Sixteen-Year-Old Girl Fights Off Attacker
One evening in Kent County, Washington, a sixteen-year-old girl was walking home. She turned a corner and noticed a man standing by a dark SUV parked along her path. It was almost midnight, and some- thing about the situation felt off. The SUV’s motor was running, and the man was watching the girl intently. Her intuition immediately told her she was in danger, so she turned to run away. That’s when the man grabbed her by the throat and forced her into the vehicle. He started trying to remove her pants and told her not to scream. The girl didn’t listen. She began kicking and screaming as loudly as she could. She was able to force the man off her and started honking the horn to get someone’s attention. Eventually, she was able to escape the SUV, but the man continued to pursue her. He grabbed by her shirt, but the girl turned and violently scratched the man’s face. That allowed her to slip out of her shirt and escape his grip. Knowing he couldn’t control the teen, the man fled back to his vehicle and made an escape. The young girl was able to flag down a car for help and had them call 911. She was able to give a full description of both the man and the SUV. She told police that the man was about 6-feet-2-inches tall, with salt and pepper shoulder-length hair. She thought he was between fifty and fifty-five years old and was driving an older, dark-colored four-door SUV similar to a Toyota 4-Runner. That gave the police enough information to track the man down and eventually make an arrest.1
Teaching Can Be Fun
All children are different, but it’s important to prepare them to fight if the situation calls for it. My kids always enjoyed these little fight sessions. We had a large lifelike punching bag set up in the garage. I’d work with them on the proper way to throw a palm heal strike to the nose and how to deliver a kick to the groin. I’d let them scream at the top of their lungs while they attacked the bag. I encouraged them to be as aggressive as they wanted; nothing was off-limits. They always had a blast doing this type of thing, but I always made sure they understood the context. These types of actions are a last resort, and they’re to be used only when you feel you are in danger. Just like the girl in this story, you have to understand that sometimes things can catch you off guard. You have to prepare your children to defend themselves violently should the need arise. It may not be something you’re comfortable with, but it could possibly save their lives.
Eight steps to instilling accountability in your teen:
- Demonstrate personal responsibility: Role modeling is the most effective tool parents have for teaching their teens anything. Any value you want your teen to have, demonstrate it in your every- day life.
- Create a culture of accountability in your family: If you want an accountable teen, then each member of your family must be responsible for their actions and behaviors, each family member must be responsible for following rules and expectations, and each must be responsible for how they respond to stressful or frustrating situations.
- Establish boundaries: You must provide your children clear and firm rules and expectations, so they are aware of the consequences of their actions. Your teen must know that if they choose to break the rules, there will be a consequence for that choice.
- Be involved in their life: Learn about their interests and attend their activities. Showing that you care about and support your teen helps them feel valued, and this, in turn, makes them more eager to engage with you and want to please you.
- But don’t be overinvolved: There is a fine line between showing your teen that you support them and micromanaging their lives. As parents, many of us do things for our kids today that we were able and expected to do for ourselves when we were children.
- Refrain from rescuing your teen: When your child is a teenager, your role becomes more of a coach. You want to guide and support your teen through their difficulty while still allowing them to discover their own capabilities. If we step in, we stop the learning process and deprive our teens of the chance to develop the courage they’ll need to try new things and solve problems.
- Allow natural consequences: No matter how painful, you must let your teen be responsible for the good and bad decisions they make. It might feel cruel, but it’s the very best parenting you can offer.
- Praise them when they demonstrate responsibility: Positive reinforcement of your teen’s actions to show responsibility will encourage them to continue the behavior. Never underestimate the power of a compliment
1.“Man Who Attempted to Rape and Kidnap Sixteen-Year-Old Girl Arrested,” Komonenews.com.
The above is an excerpt from Spotting Danger Before It Spots Your Teens: Teaching Situational Awareness to Keep Teenagers Safe by Gary Quesenberry, Federal Air Marshal (Ret.), Publication date April 1, 2022, YMAA Publication Center, ISBN: 9781594398681.