Respect and Response-ability

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No, this is not a spin-off of a Jane Austen novel, nor an example of Common Core’s new spelling methods gone awry. It is a discussion of the connection between parents respecting their children enough to let them experience the consequences of the decisions, and helping them to develop the capacity to manage whatever life throws at them.

Michael Popkin, PhD defines responsibility as “the ability to respond to challenges and opportunities” that a teen will likely encounter throughout life.

So how does one develop this response-ability? It comes from having choices—age-appropriate, situation-appropriate choices—along with experiencing the consequences of those choices.

There is no short-cut, no lecture or object lesson that will teach responsibility. It comes only from being able to make decisions and then experience both the desirable and undesirable outcomes of those decisions without parental interference.

It is not uncommon for staff in the university records office to get phone calls from agitated parents wanting to know what to do to change their adult child’s grades, or at least diminish the effects of those grades. The adult students who work in those offices are aghast, recognizing the irresponsible nature of the requests those parents are making. As college students themselves, they easily recognize the damage likely to result from stepping between a young adult and the natural results of decisions made throughout a semester.

Having counseled and consulted with a good number of these loving, but misguided parents I can attest to the fact these patterns of mistaken rescue attempts began long before the kids headed to college. It usually begins quite early in life, imagining that those children would fail and suffer beyond their capacities to recover without parental interference.

But that is where respect enters into the equation.

I vividly recall the Friday evening I did not make it home by midnight, per my agreement with my parents. I had a good reason for being late: my best friend and his girlfriend were flirting it up in Tautphas Park (yes, I had to look up the spelling), and I was their only ride home. By the time I arrived home I was 20 minutes past my curfew, but I explained my predicament as I checked in with them. My parents kindly thanked me for checking in with them, and for driving safely home that night.

I thought I had dodged a bullet.

My parents and I had a very clear agreement about my being out at night; they were pretty liberal with the privilege as long as I was where and with whom I said I would be, drove safely, and returned home on time. Otherwise I would lose the privilege of going out for the next week.

As I got ready to go out the following evening my father asked what I was up to, and I reminded him I had a date with Camille. He responded, “But I thought we had an agreement.” I immediately got defensive, reminding him that it was Danny’s fault I was not home on time the night before. He nodded compassionately and noted that he would feel frustrated as well, then he walked into the garage.

I knew what I had to do.

I called and explained to Camille why I could not go out that night, explaining my parents’ policy. She seemed a little surprised they would be so inflexible, but I defended them, recognizing that they were treating me with respect by holding me to our agreement, just as they would gladly have allowed me to go out if I had kept my side of the bargain.

I will forever be grateful for parents who respected me enough to kindly hold me to our agreements, and I believe it went a long way toward helping me develop the ability to make wise decisions I could live with.

And you can be darned sure I never let my buddy’s love life keep me from being home on time again.

Michael Williams is a licensed psychotherapist, a Marriage & Family Therapist with over 25 years’ experience. You can comment or offer suggestions for future articles at, or you can call 208.360.2365.



About the Author:

Michael Williams is a licensed psychotherapist, a Marriage and Family Therapist with over 25 years' experience. A specialist in quickly improving important relationships, he is also an expert in helping clients to quickly overcome problems with anxious, depressed or irritable moods.

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