Thursday, March 10, 2011

Consequences Need to Follow Irresponsible Behavior

I was shaking my head as I left the doctor’s office today. And it wasn’t because of anything he did.

It was what one of the staff told me about her son, who graduated from college last May.

“John” has been unemployed and living at home since then. He makes no effort to get a job. Instead, he plays video games all day and stays in his room when his mother comes home for lunch because he doesn’t want to listen to her complain about his lifestyle. She and her husband are making car and insurance payments for his car in addition to all his living expenses. She said he griped a few days ago when she asked him to clean his bathroom.

Unbelievable, right?

That’s what I thought, anyway, and I told her so. I don’t usually offer unsolicited input, but this seems like an explosion waiting to happen. I felt an obligation to speak up.

Here are just a couple of the observations I shared.
"John has no reason to change his behavior because you and his father aren’t requiring him to experience any discomfort or consequences for his actions. You’re enabling him to continue with his current lifestyle." 
"He may be addicted to video games. If that’s the case, consider counseling to figure out the best course of action and how you and your husband can support each other."
She seemed to be listening, yet her responses suggested that she was stuck in the details of the problem, which prevented her from considering another perspective. For instance, when I pointed out that trying to get him to clean the bathroom was only touching the tip of the problem, she honestly didn’t “get” it.

This incident reminded me of the importance – for parents, leaders, teachers and coaches – of teaching others about personal responsibility…and that there are consequences for irresponsible behavior. Wishing, hoping, and worrying will not result in someone else altering his or her behavior.

Instead, clear communication of what’s expected up-front is essential, as well as what will happen if those expectations are not met.

As parents, we want to think the best of our children. We want to trust them to make good decisions and think through the potential effects of their actions. But it’s OUR responsibility as parents to teach them how to do this. It doesn’t happen automatically.

We must take an active role in guiding and directing young people to grow into fully-functioning adults, or we will be sending them into the world ill-equipped to deal with life and all its challenges.

Coincidentally, my business partner, Denny Coates, made a similar post earlier this week and shares some very important insights for parents: Why Teens Need Help - The Consequences of Poor Judgment.


  1. One of the lessons for me researching parents' guiding roles during the "teen journey" is that they start BEFORE puberty to establish a parental pattern of unconditional love, communication skills, and guidance. Then, when their brains start the prefrontal cortex development process, parents and teens have that as a foundation, not a fix. It's pretty hard to make positive changes when a kid is 22.

  2. Denny, you're right. The earlier parents start setting up positive patterns with their children, the better. While I agree it's difficult to make those changes at 22, I believe it's possible. Of course, a lot of work will be required to establish new patterns that are stronger than the old ones. That's where counseling, coaching or some other form of support is needed on that journey.

  3. I enjoyed this article. I hope this lady takes your advice. Unfortunately we as parents sometimes are not doing our children justice. You said this here and it is so true.
    Some kids now a days do not realize how lucky they are and take advantage of their parents. This is not always their fault either. As parents we have to set examples and follow through.
    Thanks for sharing.


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