Outward Bound Blog – Tips for working with troubled teens – Part 3


I stated in one of my earlier posts that teenagers are always looking for answers, whether they act like it or not.

They are trying things, often seemingly lacking impulse control. This can present itself as wanting more, and more freedom. But there is often a disconnect between the ying of freedoms they desire, and the yang of the responsibilities that accompany them.

Understanding the Relationship between Freedoms and Responsibilities
When I try to convey to my students this concept, I like to use the wording of “equal parts” freedom and responsibility. That you can’t have one without the other. At home, this may look like a teen pushing for a later curfew, or using the car more frequently, or simply getting their drivers license. In the wilderness, this can look like the students deciding what time they want to wake up, or swimming without lifejackets on. These freedoms are very tangible. They desire the autonomy, because they feel it is coupled with adulthood.

It is our responsibility, as authority figures, parents and educators to inform, teach, and hold them accountable to the responsibilities coupled with those freedoms. If a teen wants to borrow the car, the obvious responsibility is to manage and drive the car safely. But in my perspective, we need to be more explicit and tangible in regards to the additional responsibility of driving the car. For example, give them the freedom of being able to drive the car when they ask, but they are also responsible for driving their siblings to and from school everyday.

Here is a graph that demonstrates the simplicity of the nature of the relationship between freedom and responsibilities. Where the difficulty lies, is in the finesse of helping teens understand the nature of this relationship.


In the field, Voyageur Outward Bound School utilizes course structure to symbolize this relationship. The beginning of the course, where we are training the students in everything from backcountry travel, or cooking their own food, to strictly managing their time. Students feel relatively little freedom and responsibility.

As the course progresses, they gain freedoms such as choosing what time to wake up, or how far they want to travel in a day. So long as they can demonstrate proficiency in managing the responsibility associated with those freedoms, they can maintain those freedoms. As they continue to demonstrate proficiency, they move into the final portion of the expedition. With nearly complete autonomy being the goal, this is their opportunity to live the “equal parts” mindset. Manage and handle your responsibilities with diligence and excellence, and the freedom is yours.

In my experience as an Outdoor Educator, it is important for us to hold students accountable to tangible responsibilities, while being transparent about the nature of the relationship between the two, and why they are both important. Freedoms can be a great lever. They are desirable, and manageable. If we are consistent, creative, and purposeful in our use of responsibilities, we can help the teen understand the notion of “equal parts” freedom and responsibility. As a result, we can generate clarity, and foster character traits of self-reliance, compassion, and responsibility.

Thank you for taking the time to read my articles on working with troubled teens. If you have any questions, please comment below, I would love to engage anybody in a discussion surrounding any of the topics I’ve covered recently. I can also be reached through email atjack.hilbrich@vobs.org. Thanks for reading.

Author: Jack Hilbrich

Jack is passionate about Leadership, Education, and the Outdoors. As a result, he has chosen to pursue Outdoor and Experiential Education in all of it’s facets. After completing a NOLS semester course, Jack has earned two degrees in Outdoor Education. An Associates from Colorado Mountain College, and a BS from the University of New Hampshire. He began working for Outward Bound in 2010.