Privilege vs. Responsibility

With every privilege should come increased responsibility.

For example, my 6-year-old daughter has increased freedom at every birthday.  She is able to stay up later or walk alone to our neighbor’s house.  But her responsibilities also increase at every birthday.  Last year she started getting ready for bed without our prompting or help.  Maybe this year she’ll start putting her own clothes away or rinsing her dishes.

Teenagers too often have an imbalance of privilege and responsibility.  What I mean by this is that parents are too often willing to provide their teenager with a cell phone or a car (a privilege) without requiring the teenager showing an equivalent increase in responsibility (like paying for a portion of the on-going costs or running household errands).

Sexuality is too often talked about with teenagers in terms that have everything to do with privilege and very little to do with responsibility.  In sex education classes, either at home or in schools, adults are far too likely to assume responsibility for teenagers’ sexuality decisions without putting the onus of safe sexuality squarely where it belongs: on the shoulders of the individuals availing themselves of the privilege of engaging in sex.

Next week I’ll write about what it looks like in concrete terms to ask teenagers to fully step up to the responsibility of safe sex if they are choosing to engage in the privileged activity of sex.

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. I agree that increased privilege should come with increased responsibility.

    (And I think of my own adolescence and laugh.)

    One thing about it, though: I believe that if my daughter gets pregnant prior to turning 18, I must assume partial responsibility for her child–by giving it a place to live if nothing else. Would this mean not asking my daughter to take responsibility for engaging in sex?

  2. No, of course helping your teenager meet his/her responsibilities is different from throwing them out. But your teenager should be responsible for finding appropriate childcare, earning money, finishing school, changing diapers, and generally appropriate parenting. It can be hard for newly minted grandparents to strike a good balance between (a) providing appropriate physical and emotional support and (b) still allowing their teenage child to fully parent their grandchild. (Let’s be honest: this is hard enough for some parents of adult children to do!).

    Getting it just right on the privilege/responsibility scales is hard to do. But critical to strive for.

  3. Interesting, thinking of sexuality as a privilege, rather than a gift. I think of privilege as something that can be withheld (under certain circumstances) … something that not everyone has, and you are lucky, blessed, if you are one of the ones that have it.

    None of this really falls into the category of sexuality, though, because everyone *has* sexuality, it comes with our human being-ness. No parent can take away a child’s sexuality, whether or not that child is actively engaging sexually with someone else.

    I can see your point, though, because of course the responsibility aspect is very, very important. I’d like you to think about how you can incorporate the language of necessary responsibility with the “gift” aspect of sexuality.

  4. In general, this seems to be very in line with your overall approach of preparing teenagers by adulthood by gradually letting them assume more responsibilities until, I think you stated the goal was “no rules by 18”.

  5. […] as a responsibility – Part 1 On Friday I wrote about the importance of talking with teenagers about privilege vs. responsibility in sexual […]

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