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What makes an adult?

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Eva Maria
Eva Maria

Throughout a teen’s life, and perhaps during your time when you were growing up, no child can forget the angry phrase muttered by their parents that leaves you helpless with confusion and worry “Why don’t you just grow up”.

Easier said than done.

The mere fact that this phrase was said to me by teachers, parents and sometimes other adults left me wondering “When will I?”. I wanted to grow up so bad! But it’s not really what the phrase means, right? We’re growing every single day – getting older with every second, and the thought of growing up leaves us helpless because…it’s not really up to us to go to bed one night, wish to be 30, and wake up as a 30 year old the next morning. It just doesn’t work like that (unless you’re playing a part in some weird Hollywood movie).

What I guess the saying really means is to take more responsibility. Ugh. I still hate that word. ‘Responsibility’ was the ugliest word at high school – to us as teens meant following rules and being boringly mature, and come on, who wants to be THAT when you’re 14? So during my years at high school, throughout my research for my first book ‘You Shut Up!’, I decided to go on a mission to find out what it really means when parents say ‘Grow up’. The findings weren’t rocket science, but I did find a way that adults can really communicate the meaning behind the saying to their teens in a more understandable way.

Let’s take a look at another word for a second.


Freedom means having NO rules – in a teen’s mind, it’s the total opposite of responsibility. Freedom means being independent; being the boss of your own life – it is the thing all teenagers truly want. I’m all about bridging the gaps between generations, and creating win-win solutions for adult-teen relationships, so finding a way to somehow combine the understanding and rights of being ‘free’, with responsibility for teenagers was a total goldmine in my work! If all teenagers want freedom, they need to understand that doing what they please also involves not only consequences, but taking responsibility, and if they think that the actions they take as a result of being ‘free’ are ‘right’, they should have no problem being responsible for THOSE actions.

Are you still with me?

If teenagers want freedom, you must explain that with freedom, comes responsibility.
They will be so happy about the fact that they get SOME freedom, they will stop viewing responsibility as a ‘boring’ thing adults make them take on just to be mean.

A really important example that I give to my conference and workshop audiences to grasp this concept is the debate of letting your teenage son or daughter take your car out somewhere. Considering you are not breaking any laws (i.e. the permission and rules you’re giving them assume that they will be acting in line with the law), the freedom-responsibility concept needs to be executed in a specific sequence. You must lay out the responsibilities they have. Once they start to think there is no justice in this world, you spring the freedom they’re getting if they follow their responsibilities – this will make them feel better, and more likely to stick to the rules, knowing that if they don’t, they lose their freedom. Then you assess how they did, and repeat as many times as you need to. In the example of taking out the car, many parents make the following mistake:

Teenager: Mum/Dad, can I borrow the car?

Mum/Dad: Sure [giving freedom], but just make sure…..[starting to spell out responsibilities]
and by then, they are out the door, and if they’re not literally, they are likely to turn off from any other rules you set in place at this point, because the freedom has already been ‘unlocked’.

Following the sequence I described, the conversation, for best results needs to go like this:

Teenager: Mum/Dad, can I borrow the car?

Mum/Dad: Will you put gas in it/you must be home by 10pm/etc. [giving responsibility, while their attention span is high because they are watching out for a positive outcome]?

Teenager: Yes…

Mum/Dad: Then, yes [give the freedom]

If they bring the car back with an empty tank, or arrive home after the agreed time, or any other responsibility they had was not put into action, you assess the situation with them, explain what you expected/said to them before they left, and decide on a suitable consequence the next time responsibilities are ignored.

I really recommend you adopt the freedom-responsibility concept in your home or workplace when communicating with younger people. Although everyone claims teenagers are in the ‘What’s in it for me?’ generation and mindset, whether it’s myth or fact, play on the fact that they WANT freedom, meaning they won’t have a choice about not sticking to agreed responsibilities.

To finish off, I strongly suggest you write out and put the following saying on your fridge, living room, or in your teen’s room – this used to be one of our only rules at high school, and I feel that the reason we didn’t have a massive rule-book for students, is because every one that spent longer than a year there, understood the following sentence, and acted in line with it at all times, meaning all other rules would have been repeating what this one is saying. I’d like to pass it onto you, because, I remember when I truly understood the meaning behind it as a teenager, somehow, life became a lot more fun…and I was faced with a whole lot less of ‘Why don’t you just grow up’s.

I have the right to be free when I act responsibly.

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