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Two Critical Mistakes Parents Make When It Comes to Responsibility

This month, American parents received two life-lessons about mishandling money with their young adult children. The research on what’s trending has become clear. Let me cut straight to the point.

1. Parents Take Responsibility Too Often When We Should Let It Go

The results of a nationwide survey were recently released: “Parents help their kids in a variety of ways, and that includes financial support, even when their children grow older. Nearly half of millennials (46%) get some level of financial help from mom and dad on a monthly basis, according to a new survey released by Money Under 30.”

Did you catch that? Nearly half of these adults can’t do adulthood on their own.

While I agree—sometimes our adult children need our help, I wonder if our help simply kicks the can down the road. When young adults prolong dependence on parents, they delay their ability to shoulder responsibility. For example, the top item kids request financial help with, according to the survey, is cell phone bills. They feel their smartphone is a must. But is it really? While it’s hard to imagine life without a portable device, what if we taught them to distinguish “needs” from “wants”? What if we showed them how to go without other items if they felt they had to keep the phone—like manicures or video games? Or, perhaps even learn to live for a while without the phone? Parents must enable kids to learn resourcefulness.

Millions of today’s young adults are forced to delay professional goals because we’ve failed to teach them how to do without luxuries. We unwittingly taught them that luxuries are necessities: smartphones, eating out, brand name clothes, nice big TVs. You get the idea. And now, their big “life goals” are pushed further away.

Almost 8 in 10 young adults agree they’re being delayed in reaching their life goals by money. While I understand the economy (cost of living vs. earnings) has made life hard for a young professional, I have also witnessed how too many parents prevented their teens or young adults from getting started earlier on working a job or savings. We spared them the hassle as a teen—but perhaps created a hassle later on.

Question: Have you created dependency when you should have created autonomy?

2. Parents Let Go of Responsibility Too Often When We Should Take It On

There is another reality taking place today, however. Parents are finding loopholes in the education system for their high school students and avoiding responsibility.

Parents of teenagers are delegating custody of their kids for a college scholarship.

“Parents are giving up legal guardianship of their children during their junior or senior year in high school to someone else — a friend, aunt, cousin or grandparent. The guardianship status then allows the students to declare themselves financially independent of their families so they can qualify for federal, state and university aid,” a ProPublica Illinois investigation found.

Andy Borst, director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign says “It’s a scam.” Why you ask? Borst says, “Wealthy families are manipulating the financial aid process to be eligible for financial aid they would not be otherwise eligible for. They are taking away opportunities from families that really need it.” Truth be told, more than 70,000 eligible students in Illinois alone won’t get this money because it’s been taken.

So, in this case, parents are actually delegating responsibility for their kids when they should be modeling responsibility.

As a parent who’s paid for two college tuitions from private universities, I understand the debt load parents or students can accumulate from higher education. Tuition is too high in our country today. It was not easy for my wife and I to help our kids graduate college. But in avoiding this responsibility through a legal loophole, we actually teach our kids to act like “victims” of the system and evade duties that come with life. We start silently communicating we deserve a special break because the system is bad. Soon, however, the legal loopholes become illegal loopholes. One day, mark my words, our kids will have pushed the limits on taking illegal advantage of subscriptions or stolen property just because they can. They see themselves as victims. They feel it’s less of a crime than what those vendors are committing.

Question: Have you accidentally taught your kids to act like victims and avoid duty?

Let’s commit to long-term thinking. 

  • Let’s delegate responsibility to our young adults for their sake, so they can learn what it means to experience self-efficacy and autonomy.
  • Let’s assume responsibility for our young adults for their sake, so they can see what it looks like to act from honor and justice.

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Two Critical Mistakes Parents Make When It Comes to Responsibility