Are You Enabling Your Teen? You May Be Robbing Them of Their Independence

When my daughter Sarah was seventeen, my husband and I bought her a Shih Tzu puppy in exchange for her going away to a Christian summer camp.

Yes. We bribed her. After pure desperation, we figured that Christian camp may be her “come to Jesus” moment and that we’d be able to send her off to college worry-free.

It worked, sort of. She went off to camp. But she never had the “come to Jesus” moment we were hoping for and left for college unaffected, leaving us with a very stubborn dog that bit neighbors and was impossible to potty train.

In hindsight, we weren’t doing her (or ourselves) any favors. I can think of several other instances when I sacrificed my own self-care and value system in favor of bribing, coaxing and over-doing for my children.

The fancy word for this bribing/coaxing/overdoing trifecta duo is called “enabling” and I am capable of being the queen.

It is easy to wrestle with the fine line between enabling and empowering our children on a daily basis. If you’re anything like me, you want a clear and easily defined line between the two. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. There are different situations that pop up everyday that require our discernment and wisdom.

However, while there may not be any black or white answers, it is helpful to identify the what, how and why of enabling so we can catch ourselves when we are falling into these patterns and change it.

So, what is enabling?

Enabling may or may not be a familiar word to you, so I think it is helpful to give an idea of what enabling is.

  • Enabling is when we tend to do more than our fair share for someone else that they can do for themselves.
  • We rob them of taking responsibility for their actions, choices and/or behavior.
  • We enable when we rescue, bribe, over-do, manipulate and plead.
  • When we enable others, we lack healthy boundaries. In our case with Sarah, we not only lacked healthy boundaries but we manipulated our desired outcome and it backfired.
  • We enable our teens when we don’t allow them to face the natural consequences of their choices. It might feel like we are helping when in actuality we are perpetuating irresponsible behavior.

How do we discern the difference between enabling and empowering our kids?

I know I am not alone in having difficulty discerning between empowering and enabling our kids. If this sounds like you, we can both enjoy a moment of silence for all the time spent cleaning our fully capable children’s rooms while they were at school after they’d promised us they’d do it themselves.

Here are a few helpful questions to ask ourselves in order to be aware of when we’re enabling.

  • Do you find you are so busy caring for you kids that you feel like you don’t have time to care for yourself?
  • Do you do things for your teen that you don’t want to do?
  • Do you do things for your teen that they can do for themselves?
  • Do you make excuses for your teen?
  • Do you jump in to fix a problem for your teen rather than allowing them to experience the natural consequences?

Why do we enable?

In my time working with fellow moms and coaching them on becoming better parents, I have found that many struggle with an overwhelming responsibility to ensure their child’s success. It is difficult to watch our children struggle. The turbulence of the teenage years can bring about terrifying visions of what their future might look like without our interference.

Here are 7 Ways We Can Empower Our Teens:

  • We empower them by getting out of the way.
  • We allow them to be responsible and grow up.
  • We step back and stop doing everything for them.
  • We stop operating out of fear and have faith that they will figure it out.
  • We allow them to experience natural consequences for their behavior.
  • We quit rescuing them from the struggles of life.
  • We focus on living our own lives and finding meaning, passion and purpose separate from our kids.


Question – What are some ways you foster independence and responsibility in your teen?

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