I am familiar with behavior plans, as I was a teacher before I became a counselor. Behavior plans help children learn. But what are your choices when your 17-year old’s behavior requires a behavior plan? A behavior plan holds less power as a child ages. My own adolescent seemingly aged out of this tool.

In the midst of determining options of how to respond to her unhealthy choices, my husband and I felt betrayed. We justified thoughts of retaliation under the auspice of “learning a lesson,” and wanted “an eye for an eye. “Never mind what we understand scripture to suggest, “Raise up a child in the way that he should go…” (Proverbs 22:6) No! I wanted her to feel the consequences of her choices.

Upon realizing that our stable family routine was disrupted, my husband and I had to recalibrate. Adolescence is a quest for freedom, and to get as much as possible as soon as possible. The ultimate goal of adolescence (winding down in the early to mid-twenties), is functional autonomy for the youth and the parents. As healthy parents release the role of directing, supervising, and supporting, healthy young adults embrace safety and responsibility, which leads to freedom.

Freedom on demand is high-risk. Our 17-year old’s quest for freedom is natural. In his article, “The Freedom Contract: Holding a Teen to Responsible Account” Carl Pickhardt, PhD, refers to the responsibility of the Freedom Contract as the most secure kind of freedom founded in “preparation, monitored by awareness, and influenced by judgment.”

The Freedom Contract is based on the relationship between responsibility and freedom. Pickhardt suggests holding the adolescent to a contractual account for six kinds of responsibilities, which offers the adolescent negotiating power for the desired freedom. If the responsibilities for freedom are unmet, the adolescent is declining the freedom, and the parents can facilitate a discussion re: the compromised responsibilities. The six responsibilities offer lessons and reminders in the groundwork for good character:

  • telling the truth;
  • make a contribution to family;
  • honor commitments you make;
  • show maturity at home; school, and in the world;
  • practice availability to be open to talk about concerns parents have; and
  • demonstrate civility in communicating the same respect shown by parents.

Pickhardt’s clarification of these responsibilities then facilitates my teen focusing on priorities and freedom rather than getting mired in the chaos and conflict. And this then concurrently facilitates my focus on the enduring strength of parental love.

Would you like to work together in learning how to apply these six kinds of responsibilities and facilitate your adolescent’s freedom? Give me a jingle.