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17-year-old Needs More Responsibilities  




I have a 17 year old son who is generally a sensitive, bright, and loving young man. Although, we have had conflicts throughout his teen years, we do remain close and we generally have open communication.

Where I am stuck with him is with regard to him following basic rules and limits. His view is that "I'm not a baby. I'm fine".  My view is not only that he wants to do whatever he wants to do, whenever he wants to but that he doesn't seem to appreciate the importance of being able to adhere to some basic behavioural limits or appreciate the possible foreseeable consequences of some of his actions. Some rules include being home by 10pm on weekdays and 1am on weekends, calling and letting me know where he is and what he's generally up to, having dinner with me at least half the week, and helping with a few chores around the home.

I have used consequences such as turning off his cell phone, limiting allowance, and limiting access to the PS3 (especially late at night as he will sneak out to play once I'm asleep). I've allowed him to experience the consequences of his own behaviour and then point out the connection to him (ie. Grades drop if you skip school). He will actually tell me that giving him consequences will have no impact on him.
I try not to take his antics personally but find it a great challenge sometimes as it feels disrespectful. We have been close his whole life. One social worker told me "Just don't take it personally" but never offered any suggestions of how I make that happen.

Any helpful input would be gratefully appreciated.

Single mother (with somewhat supportive father - low conflict but avoidant)


Welcome to adolescence. Often seen in teenagers, they want the freedoms they see in adulthood but without appreciating the responsibilities that are connected to those freedoms. The bad news is there may be little you can do. The good news is that teens outgrow adolescence, usually by the time they are twenty-one as per the quote attributed to Mark Twain, "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."

Beyond waiting it out, it is important to still hold your son accountable to reasonable expectations and to have him shoulder the responsibility for his toys and privileges. Thus if he wants a cell-phone, he can purchase one and manage the monthly fees on his own. At 17, and in lieu of an allowance, he can get a part-time job. If he is disrespectful, you can limit the kind deeds you provide such as rides, laundry, etc. In other words, little big man can take on the responsibilities of providing for himself particularly if he is not going to act in a kindly reciprocal way with you.

Throughout always remain civil. The real trick here is to simply stop being his floormat and providing like he is living at the holiday Inn. As he comes to appreciate the many services you provide and acts reasonably in return, then you can consider doing favours on his behalf. Please note, I am not talking punishment here, just mutual reasonable behaviour where give and take depends on reciprocity as a two-way street. The challenge will be for you to maintain your ground as he balks at thought of responsibilities.


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Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
(905) 628-4847  


Gary Direnfeld is a social worker in private practice. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider Gary an expert on child development, parent-child relations, marital and family therapy, custody and access recommendations, social work and an expert for the purpose of giving a critique on a Section 112 (social work) report.


Call Gary for your next conference and for expert opinion on family matters. Services include counselling, mediation, assessment, assessment critiques and workshops.


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20 Suter Crescent, Dundas, ON, Canada L9H 6R5 Tel: (905) 628-4847 Email: gary@yoursocialworker.com