8 Powerful Ways to Teach Our Kids About Ownership

There is a troubling trend in our country today that you might have heard about. One in five Millennials in their 20s and early 30s have moved back home with their parents.

This “failure to launch” trend is giving rise to the realization that young people today are feeling less and less prepared for the responsibilities of adulthood. At the same time, today’s kids from Generation Y and Generation Z still struggle with entitlement, believing that their parents or society owes a nice life to them.

In this atmosphere where so many kids believe they are ready for a future they really know nothing about, I believe the single most important ingredient for maturity and leadership that parents can pass on is ownership. 

It’s the idea that my life is my own, which entails both freedom and responsibility.

Ownership: It’s the idea that my life is my own, which entails both freedom and responsibility. How can we introduce this critical concept to our children so that they can be successful, mature adults? Here are 8 ways to introduce ownership from bestselling author and international speaker Tim Elmore.

Ownership is responsibility:

…For the decisions I make.

…For the challenges I face.

…For the money I spend or save.

…For the people I choose to hang around.

…For the future I prepare for.

…For the mistakes I make.

How to Help Our Kids Take Ownership

For over thirty years, I’ve traveled all over the world. I love travel, especially to remote exotic places that I’d previously only seen in photos.

Once in a while, I travel to developing nations that require me to get immunizations. You know what this is, don’t you? Prior to being exposed to certain diseases in other countries, a nurse inoculates you—introducing a small dose of the disease into your body.

Over a few weeks, you build up immunities to the disease and are able to handle a full dose of the disease when you arrive in the country. We actually build up anti-bodies and become strong enough to face dangerous diseases in remote places by experiencing the disease before we ever go.

In one sense, this is a picture of what we must do for our kids. In order for them to face the adversity of adulthood well, we must introduce small doses of it early on.

In order for them to possess the discipline necessary for hard work or stressful jobs, we must expose them to it in smaller amounts so they are ready for it. In a sense, they build up anti-bodies. They become inwardly strong and prepared for what’s ahead.

Usually, when they are growing up, an adolescent wants “freedom” but not “responsibility.” However, real maturity and genuine leadership are only transferred from adult to child when kids receive both of these elements in equal parts.

We haven’t truly helped a young person mature until we’ve passed on ownership by pairing every coming freedom with a corresponding responsibility. 

So far, too many of us have not done a good job passing on “ownership” to our young adults. As they enter their adult years, our kids are ambushed by adult responsibilities because we failed to ease them into adulthood. Can you guess what happens as a result? They come running home for help.

Why We Struggle to Give Our Kids Ownership

Our mistakes come from good intentions: we are afraid that giving ownership will lead to their failure, and we don’t want to stress them out. Sadly, in attempting to protect them, we accomplish just the opposite.

In the end, they don’t feel good about themselves, because they postpone their failures for a time when their success is more crucial, and we create more stress—as they reach adulthood unready for it. I believe, if we are going to curb this troubling trend, we have to remember our real job as parents: we’re not raising kids, we’re raising future adults.

I believe ownership is so important because it is the antithesis of entitlement. When I feel entitled to something, it means I assume someone else must “own” the responsibility of providing for me.

It seems we’ve unwittingly conditioned our kids for “character disorders” by teaching them to find an outside scapegoat to blame for their predicaments. We refuse to let them fail; we tell them everything is OK when they’ve committed a huge error; and we do things for them that they ought to be doing themselves. When I sense ownership, however, it means I am self-sufficient and can take responsibility myself for provision.

8 Ways to Introduce Ownership to Kids

So how do you begin to introduce ownership into your children's life at a young age? Here are some suggestions I often give when speaking to parents:

1) Help Your Student Find a Summer Job

What if we helped them get jobs in their early years, knowing those who work when they’re young are more likely to be employed again later in life?

2) Mix in Chores Around the House

What if, by elementary school, suitable chores were given to kids in exchange for a small income?

3) Plan Altruistic Projects 

What if we joined our kids to serve in a charitable project that benefited people less fortunate than they are?

4) Intentionally Engage in Solitude and Reflection

What if we paid them to read great books, then discussed their meaning and interpret their value with them?

5) Spend Time in Inter-Generational Environments 

What if we planned gatherings where multiple generations mixed it up in conversation, to raise their EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient)?

6) Let Them Travel

What if we exposed them to other cultures that are very different than us and learned from the differences and commonalities?

7) Encourage Them to Take a Gap Year

What if we gave them a year between high school and college to solve a significant problem, and actually empower them with responsibility?

8) Find Them Mentors

What if we introduced them to our network, where they could find mentors in the careers they hope to enter?

If you want help knowing were to start, observe your kids. Anticipate the life station they’re about to enter, and ask yourself: what life skills will they need to have mastered that remain undeveloped? Identify one of the above exercises that could enable them to prepare for what’s coming. Help them take a step now that will familiarize them with what’s coming around the bend.

Balancing Love and Ownership

Parenting is difficult. Finding a way to balance nurture and guidance is perhaps the most difficult part. It can be hard to watch your children flounder in frustration under the weight of new responsibilities, but remember what real love for your child looks like:

If I really love my kids, I am honest with them. I don’t paint a dishonest picture about their giftedness or beauty. I speak lovingly, but truthfully.

If I love my kids, I’ll care enough to offer them clear direction, even if it’s unpopular at the time. It’s more important to be their leader than their buddy.

If I really love my kids, I don’t always give them what they want, but what they need. I recognize they’ll choose ice cream over vegetables, so I help them make better choices until they’re ready to do so themselves.

If I love my kids, I want them to respect me now even more than love me. I know they will appreciate me at age 30, so I’m willing to lead them now so they grow into healthy adults.

If I really love my kids, I will help them see the long-term ripple effect of their decisions. I teach them to “pay now and play later.”

If I really love my kids, I provide discipline, but more than that, I teach them to discipline themselves so someone else doesn’t have to.

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This post is part of the “Raising World Changers” series. Here are other posts in this series:

9 Tips for Raising Kids Who Change the World

Raising World Changers: 38 Bible Verses to Teach Wisdom

The Hows and Whys of Talking to Kids About Sex

Encourage Your Kids to Be Praying Kids: Ideas, Books & More!

If you enjoyed this post, check out some of Tim's books:

Your Turn:

What are your biggest challenges in teaching kids ownership? What practical ways do you encourage your children toward this character trait? Share your stories here.

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