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Opinion & Essays - Apr, 2000 Issue #68 

Earning Privileges Helps Personal Growth
By Kristie Vollar
(208) 267-5550 

[The author is the daughter of Woodbury Reports publisher Lon Woodbury and his wife Denise. Kristie graduated from the Explorations Wilderness Assessment Course in 1993 and Mission Mountain School in 1994, both in Montana. She was inspired to write this article after participating in conversations with other parents while working at her father’s office. Her presence there is a demonstration of the positive relationship that has evolved since she has returned from the above-mentioned programs.]

Some people believe that it is cruel to take phone privileges away from teens when they are in a program, that forbidding them to call friends or parents secludes them in a program and infringes upon their rights. 

“Privilege” is defined as: “a right granted as a particular advantage or favor.” In other words, a privilege is something that you earn. When teens’ behavior has reached the point of being “out-of-control,” they need a highly structured environment and rules to bring their lives back “in control.” They must begin afresh, without privileges, and work to regain those privileges. Otherwise, they may be able to manipulate the system enough to “get by” without ever looking at themselves or seeing what they have become. 

What would happen if you sent your daughter to a program and she could call you as soon as she arrived? It’s quite likely that if she called you, she’d beg you to bring her home, promise that she would change, and make you feel more guilty than you already might feel, for sending her there. Or, she might yell, harass and threaten you. How would that make you feel? 

What would happen if you sent your son to a program and he was allowed to call his friends? He could call and tell them how to find him and soon be would be gone, back with his friends, maybe doing drugs. Then all would be lost, and you may never see him again. 

Did you chose such a program in the first place because you needed to isolate your teen from the negative influences of drugs and/or certain peers? Perhaps there were other reasons: lack of respect for you, anger towards you or your family, low self-esteem or just plain rebelliousness. 

Whatever the reason, you realized your teen lacked sufficient responsibility to make good decisions. You realized that his or her life was “out-of-control,” and you took the first step to regain that control. You turned to a program because you lost trust in your teen. Permitting phone privileges before trust was re-built would be returning that control prematurely. Your teen needs to learn that he or she is no longer in control, and must work to regain not only your trust, but also to earn rights and privileges. The process of rebuilding trust and working to earn privileges will help your teen grow to be responsible and self- reliant. 

A program may use the withdrawal and earning of privileges as a tool to help teens realize their behavior had deteriorated enough to be placed there. At that point it is the teens’ job to prove they will work with the system and won’t manipulate it to get what they want. 

By requiring privileges to be earned, a program teaches teens respect for themselves and others. Then real progress can be made. Teens begin to understand that earning privileges helps them to gain some control over their life, the kind of control that is healthy and produces inner strength and growth. 

I believe that requiring a teen to earn privileges, whether phone privileges or any other type of privileges, is an important step to recovery. The teen will learn to respect rules, which is necessary in today’s society. Through earning privileges, teens develop self-esteem and greater control over their lives, because they become aware that every decision they make directly affects their future. 

Copyright © 2000, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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