Teaching Teenagers to Honor Commitments

Carol JamesCopyright 1999-2012

Has your teenager ever made a commitment to do something, then found themselves struggling to honor that commitment? They may have lost interest in whatever they had committed to do or they found out after-the-fact that it wasnt what they were expecting. Sometimes they simply find themselves in over their head, yet continue to struggle honoring that commitment because of their beliefs about making agreements to do something and then sticking with it because others are counting on them. They agreed to do it, but their resistance grows stronger every day. So while they continue to honor their agreement, other parts of their life suffer including their attitude, performance and effectiveness.

The subject of honoring commitments is truly a loaded topic. At one end, we have been taught to honor our commitments 'till death do us part. At the other end is that nothing is more important than that we follow our heart, for there is abundant evidence that feeling good about ourselves and our lives enhances our health and well-being. Existing evidence shows that enjoying life:

  • Promotes good physical and mental health
  • Proactively protects against ill-health
  • Acts as an antidote to stress
  • Counteracts negative physical and mental health

If honoring a commitment goes against feeling good, then at best we will honor that commitment but not have our heart in it, not do our best and feel stressed out while honoring it. Unfortunately, then everyone loses.

So, what is the solution? Well, the most obvious one is to teach your teenagers to take the time BEFORE making the commitment to see if they really resonate with whatever they might be committing to do. Are they excited about the project and looking forward to participating? Will working on the project enhance their well-being, skills or knowledge? Are they committing because its what they want to do? Or are they feeling pressured to commit because they feel guilty or they want to please others? Are they seeking to be accepted because they feel lonely or rejected? There could be any number of reasons why teenagers commit to something, and their motivations can set the tone for whether or not they will feel satisfied and fulfilled.

But what can they do if theyve already made the commitment and now find out that they no longer resonate with what they had previously committed to do and want to back out? Well, there are a few possible options and the only right one is the one that feels best to them.

  • They can pretend to have forgotten about it and act innocent when confronted by others.
  • They can back out and claim temporary insanity for making the commitment in the first place.
  • They can hide out in the bedroom with the door locked and with their favorite snack and the remote control to the TV until the commitment period is over.
  • They can sneak away in the night and leave town.
  • They can honor the commitment and look for a way to feel good about it and to give it their all.
  • They can talk to whomever the commitment has been made to and see if there is another way to participate, one which is more aligned with how they feel.
  • They can find a way to get a replacement or help them to resolve the gap that might be left by their stepping out of the picture.
  • They can back out and explain in truth to the other parties that the reason they must back out is because they should never have made the commitment to begin with. Or perhaps tell them that when they first made the commitment they were expecting it to be one way and now find that it is not something that they can put their heart into and that they cannot do it justice.

The solution could contain several of the above options, but the most important thing is that they feel good about whatever choice they make.

Which leads me to want to talk about this whole topic of commitment. In the dictionary, commitment means, "The state of being bound emotionally or intellectually to a course of action or to another person or persons." To me, this seems to go against everything I believe about following my heart. To my way of thinking, I want to do something or be with someone simply because I feel inspired to do that or to be with that person and because it feels good and right. If that changes along the way, then I want the freedom to stop doing that or to stop being with that person without being made wrong or guilty or dishonorable.

When we make a choice, that choice is not written in cement and it is not a choice that we must live with until the day we depart this world, contrary to what most of us have been taught: You've made your bed, now lie in it. We honor a choice as long as that choice continues to feel good and right, and when it stops feeling good and right, which is something that we cannot possible foresee when we first made the choice, then we make another choice and honestly communicate to others why. That is the only way that we can always follow our heart and remain stress-free. Plus there is nothing worse than doing something poorly because we felt obligated to perform, for then we do everyone a disservice. Anything other than acting from a place of feeling good is action because of fear of reprisal, fear of rejection, fear of being made wrong, fear of being made to feel guilty, fear of others' thinking badly of us, etc., which all cause stress. We cannot believe that nothing is more important than that we follow our heart AND believe that we must honor our commitments no matter the cost, because the two beliefs contradict each other. Either we follow our heart OR we do what others expect of us. The former creates an atmosphere of health, well-being and happiness; the latter creates an atmosphere of resentment, struggle and unhappiness.

Which would you rather teach your teenagers to experience?

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