Privilege and Responsibility Go Together

Scott Turansky

Dr. Scott Turansky

Parents sometimes give privileges to young people who aren’t responsible enough to handle them. Privileges are things like being home alone, having a Facebook account, owning a cell phone, going to the mall with friends, or being able to stay up late.

Children want privileges and often pressure their parents to give them. But be careful about giving privileges too quickly, and when you do give them to your kids, use them to teach responsibility. “Before I can give you access to the internet, I have to see that you can take a stand for righteousness, be honest under pressure, and do the right thing when no one is watching.” Or, “I’d like to allow you to stay up later but it means that you have to demonstrate a good attitude during the day. I’m not sure we’re there yet.”

It’s Not about Age, but about Character

Parenting is like teaching children how to swim. As children are in deep water learning to be responsible, mature people, parents sometimes start throwing toys to them in the form of privileges. Children are then distracted from the task of learning how to grow up and parents inadvertently contribute to their child’s failure. See how to love your kids when they need Correction.

Don’t fall into the trap that says you owe your children privileges because all their friends have them. Furthermore, some children believe that the privileges enjoyed in your family are rights. An attitude of entitlement can lead a young person to be ungrateful and demanding.

Jesus told a parable in Matthew 25:14-30 about a landowner who returned to find two servants who had been responsible and one that hadn’t been. The landowner said to the responsible servants, “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.”

God is saying something here that we must say to our children day after day in order to teach them about life: privilege and responsibility go together.

When the landowner came to the third servant and saw that he’d not been responsible, he said, “Even the little you have will be taken from you.” That’s true in family life as well. Parents must remove privileges from children who aren’t responsible.

Another way to say it is this: A young person shouldn’t be able to experience the benefits of family life without also abiding by the principles that make it work. One dad said, “I feel uncomfortable allowing you to have computer time right now because of the way you asked me to leave your room a few minutes ago. First, let’s deal with the way you’re treating me and then we can talk about the privilege of computer time.” (see: Is There More to Life than Having Fun? How Much to expect from a Teen)

Children Can’t Have Privileges Without the Character to Match

This principle that privilege and responsibility go together can be a primary way that parents discipline their teens. Too often parents give privileges to teens who aren’t responsible enough to handle them. Just because a child is fourteen years old doesn’t mean that he’s mature enough to go to a friend’s house without supervision. Don’t give privileges based on age; use responsibility as a guide instead.

One mom was asked by her thirteen-year-old daughter, “How old do I have to be before I can babysit?”

Mom was wise enough to respond, “The answer doesn’t have to do with age. It has to do with responsibility.”

Her daughter continued, “How will you know when I’m responsible enough?”

“I’ll see signs of responsibility at home. I can tell if you are responsible by how you take care of your room and what kind of choices you make when I’m not around.”

Responsibility is demonstrated in practical ways. Cleaning up after a snack, taking initiative to help clear the table, being honest in a difficult situation, responding to correction well (see correction as a gift) without blaming an offense on someone else, and handling disappointment with a good attitude are all indications of responsibility.

When a parent says no to a privilege, a teen may say, “You don’t trust me.” And the answer is, “Trust is something you earn by being responsible. Show me that you’re responsible with checking in, doing your jobs around the house without being reminded, and taking a stand for righteousness when you’re in a difficult situation; then we can talk about you having some of these privileges that you’re requesting.”

Freedom Starts with Responsibility

Teens tend to want more freedom. It’s best to view that freedom as a privilege and tie it to doing well in several areas. You might say, “Son, I understand you want more freedom. If you’re doing well at school by doing your best, at work by being responsible, at home by completing your chores and treating our family with respect, and at church by being involved with the Lord, then I’m more motivated to release you in other areas. Show me responsibility in these key areas of your life and I’ll be eager to give you greater privileges.”

It’s unrealistic to expect that a young child knows how to clean up her bedroom; you teach her and then check up on her. The same is true with teaching responsibility to teens. You can’t just assume that a young person knows how to withstand negative peer pressure, for example. It takes work to develop the ability to say no under pressure. If your child hasn’t learned how to stand for what’s right in that kind of situation (responsibility), then be careful about allowing him to go to the mall with his friends (privilege). Children need to learn responsibility, and as a parent, you have the privilege, or shall we say, the responsibility to teach it.

If your child lacks responsibility then training is your solution. If you’re relying too much on correction instead of training then your parenting will be negative see Parent Game Changer : Training vs Correction.

In the book Parenting is Heart Work Training Manual you will find the exercises needed to build qualities in your child like cooperation, responsiveness to authority, good attitude, accepting no as an answer, and obligation to do what’s right. Most children need quite a bit of training and we’ve outlined the practice sessions that exercise the heart.


Listen to Dr Turansky’s podcast on helping kids choose What’s Right not What’s Easy.

  • Heather Peterson
    Posted at 07:09h, 22 April Reply

    Thank you for posting. This is so helpful. Parenting a RAD foster child that has been in 27 placements is so difficult.

  • scott turansky
    Posted at 08:14h, 22 April Reply

    Heather, thank you for your service. Using your home as a mission field is a challenge. Helping a child overcome pain from the past is not easy. Along with a lot of love and comfort, teaching responsibility is strategic. Both soften the heart in different ways and help a child heal from their past challenges. Thanks for taking time to respond.

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