A Stands for… Accountability

Teens need to be accountable for their actions. Become personally accountable for what you do and say is an integral part of growing up and becomes something fundamentally expected from adults.

Covering for your kids and excusing their mishaps does not teach life skills. As hard as it is to sit idly by and see your child upset … supporting them through such difficult times is preferable to sheltering from them.

All actions have a consequence, sometimes good … sometimes unpleasant … and occasionally tragic. Consequences though are an unavoidable element of living and result from actions, regardless what the intention may have been. Learning this lesson can be hard, but it’s essential.

I’ve dealt with many parents who have made excuses for their teen and tried to ‘fix’ a situation to protect their child. Of course the desire to protect is an instinctive parenting behaviour but it can come at the expense of lessons, which need learning.

Raising a responsible teen means raising an accountable teen and we need to make our adolescents very aware that they live in a society where, as an adult, playing the blame game is rarely acceptable.

In coaching your teen in accountability and responsibility it’s important they can associate decision-making and actions with the potential of reward as well as consequence.

What can happen when a teen dodges responsibility for their actions?

  • A teen not practiced in accountability can spend much of their time relying on others to create their happiness or entertainment. They tend to lack maturity and self-sufficiency.
  • They can develop a belief that things don’t need to be earned and thus tend to place unrealistic expectations on others.
  • Self-improvement and goal setting are not priorities as previous failures are blamed upon others or external factors.
  • It becomes difficult for them to form and maintain significant friendships and/or relationships as their peers tire of the blame laying.
  • Self-satisfaction and reward are not as keenly felt and appreciated.
  • If things go wrong … and parents are unable to intervene … they are less capable of rationalising and/or accepting what may be perfectly logical consequences.
  • In more serious cases, there can be more severe legal consequences resulting from a teen not being accountable for their actions.

10 tips for stepping back and letting teens be accountable..

  1. Assign them household responsibilities – looking after a pet or the need to regularly complete a specific chore.
  2. Encourage them to seek a part-time job.
  3. Allow them to fail at some things – in the long run, it will be ok if they oversleep, arrive late at school and have to do a detention. It will also be ok if they are penalised for an overdue assignment if they chose to procrastinate. Consider these lessons well learnt.
  4. Stop over-helping: don’t continue to wash clothes that are left on the bedroom floor and not taken to the bathroom etc.
  5. Refuse to make excuses if they come to you wanting a note or reason to excuse them from a reasonable activity.
  6. Let them make decisions – guide them when necessary, but allow them some control … and then step back.
  7. Set a good example as a role model in accountability and accept blame when necessary.
  8. Demonstrate there is a bigger picture and that in the scheme of things, what may feel like a dire consequence today is likely not to have a lifelong impact.
  9. Let them know they are unconditionally loved and supported despite stuff-ups.
  10. Discuss alternative actions to prevent reoccurrences of behaviours or decisions that have led to unpleasant outcomes.

Worksheet Download


Your CRASH Journaling prompts for this module…

  • Can you think of a time you assisted your teen to escape the consequences of their actions?
  • What may have been the worst outcome had you not intervened?
  • How may your involvement have impacted on the learning potential of this situation

Just to recap

Letting teens experience the consequence of their actions takes parents patience and practice.

In a world where every child wins a prize, it’s hard for kids to learn how to lose and how to fail. Making mistakes is inevitable, and dealing with such mistakes in a healthy way is a skill our children need to learn and then master.

In adolescence, opportunities for mistakes are very much there and sometimes the consequences can be quite complex… even lifelong. Allowing failures to be failures, and successes to be celebrated is a way to build accountability in your kids.

Teens tend to try and live up… or down… to your expectations so it’s best to set the bar high. Instead of focusing on achievements (such as straight A’s or personal best laps) expectations around values work well. Traits such as consideration, respect, honesty, empathy and generosity will lead them towards being responsible young adults.

Teaching your teen to be accountable is not about disciplining them or controlling them. Once they have a clear understanding about what is acceptable, and what isn’t, accountability means allowing them to face the fair and appropriate consequences for their behaviour.

Some tips for setting consequences

  • avoid ultimatums (which teens can see as a challenge and then BOOM, it’s game on!)
  • be clear and concise with your expectations eg “please be home early” can be left to interpretation; instead try “please be home by 8”
  • explain your reasoning and decision making process if it helps them to learn
  • be reasonable and fair – avoid setting expectations they just won’t be able to reach
  • be prepared to be flexible and extend your boundaries as their sense of responsibility grows

Your teens will watch what you do, before they do as you say…You are your teen’s prime role model and I promise they’ll be watching your actions closely. When it comes to teaching them responsibility and ensuring they’re learning to be accountable for their decisions you’re going to need to take the lead.

Here’s what they’ll be looking for you to model:

  • being accountable yourself by accepting consequences for actions
  • exercising self control
  • setting goals and working towards them
  • acknowledging mistakes and taking ownership instead of blaming or making excuses
  • being proactive
  • being reflective

Teens will say they want more control over their lives and more freedom. Holding them accountable offers this power and gives them capacity to chose – their attitudes, their words, their actions and the associated consequences.

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