Empower, Don’t Enable


guest Author: Rachel Rupert

Just a few weeks before my sixteenth birthday, I remember my mom driving me around to pick up applications at different stores and restaurants.  I reluctantly walked into each place while my mom waited for me to come out with yet another form.  I did this a number of times until I found myself sitting in a booth with the assistant manager of Spring Creek Barbeque.  Finally, I got a job!

While many of my friends and peers at school were receiving new cars or having parties to celebrate turning 16, my household conversation went a little more like this:  "If you want a car, you need to be prepared to pay for insurance, gas, and maintenance. To do so, you'll need to get a job to support yourself in these areas.  We aren’t going to give you an allowance anymore, so if you want money, you have to earn it yourself!"

Wow!  Thanks, parents!  It seemed almost cruel in comparison with everyone else.  My birthday rolled around and did I get a car?  Nope!  But I did start working as a “Bread Girl” on nights and weekends.

What little money I made covered my phone bill and some of the things I wanted, but the bulk of my paycheck I placed into my savings account (since my parents weren't going to buy me a car!). I continued to save money until I had enough to purchase my parent’s 15-year-old car from them.  It was by far one of the cheapest, oldest cars in our high school parking lot, but it worked… and it was MINE!

As a 16-year-old, the choices my parents made to not purchase me a car, or pay for me to go out with my friends was something I struggled with.  I was frustrated at times when I would see a group of friends go to an expensive concert and I wasn’t able to participate.  

It “didn’t seem fair” that everyone else was getting everything they wanted, while I had to work hard for what I wanted. I was making $6.75 an hour and working part-time.  You do the math!  I didn’t have a lot of cash to work with.  I had to say NO to things I desperately wanted to say YES to. 

Looking back now I see the situation completely different.  It was during this time of my life that I began to form mature decision-making skills.  These moments marked the beginning of true independence taking root in my life.  As I worked, I felt accomplished at working hard, and satisfaction in my ability to earn something for myself.  

Purchasing that old Camry on my own (I had saved up for years to buy a car) was a moment of pride and accomplishment for me!  And little did I know that the lesson I had learned back then was one I would use again and again.  

I am now 25, married, and employed full-time.  Before getting married, I worked hard while attending college to replace my two decades old Camry.  I saved $10,000, which I used to purchase a car with cash, the same month that I graduated - with the highest GPA in my class, I might add ;). 

After selling my 21 year old Camry, I bought this little gem, with cash!

After selling my 21 year old Camry, I bought this little gem, with cash!

My parents didn’t give me what I wanted, they gave me the tools I needed to work hard and succeed on my own. 

Parents, it’s OK to say no to what “every other parent” is doing. We live in a culture that glorifies teenage years as increased independence and a time to have fun and go out with friends… but who’s footing the bill? 

Independence comes with a price, and true independence is self-sustained. To hand everything to your teenager that they ask for, put them in a nice car, and provide them the money they need to keep that car on the road is enablement.

Teenagers have no concept of what the cost is, and they won’t be able to meet that cost without someone else stepping in and helping them. Unfortunately, that means you may be paying the price… pun intended. 

Enablement is defined as simply this:  give (someone) the authority or means to do something; or, make possible.  You are allowing them the ability to be independent, but as you’ll read later on, there are key elements missing to allow them to grow in their independence.

Empowerment is something totally different.  Empowerment is defined as: make (someone) stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights. 

Rather than simply giving them what they need to be more independent, let them take independence into their own hands.  Empowerment creates opportunities for learning and adapting, becoming stronger, and learning how to control their life.  

At the end of the day, isn’t that what every parent wants?  Equip them to be successful in the world by allowing them the opportunity to succeed (or fail) on their own!

My parents continued to support me in the basic essentials (i.e., food, housing, clothing, and money for school) but gave me the responsibility of supporting myself in extra areas, like going out with friends, going out to eat, extra shopping trips, and my “wants.”  

You don’t have to be drastic. You don’t have to skip out on providing for their needs.  Rather, let your intent be to come alongside them and usher them into adulthood by helping them grow in their independence. 

I’m so grateful my parents didn’t give me what I asked for.  I’m so glad I had to deal with the disappointment of my 16th birthday “reality check” of having to work for my own car. The trade-off of that momentary disappointment for the life lessons I learned along the way is invaluable to me. 

You know what they say, “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Empower your teenagers to grow in their independence by letting them walk it out in practical ways. They will thank you for it later!



about the author

Rachel Rupert is the daughter of financial coach, Leo Sabo.  She is 25 years old and is married to Rudy Rupert. They have been married since September 2016, and are expecting a baby girl this August!  She currently works at Gateway Church, in the Women's and Groups ministries. She has a passion for Jesus, writing, puppies, and coffee. She loves being able to share what God is doing in her life, and help people see His goodness, faithfulness, and love.

You can visit her website, rachel-rupert.com to view more of her writing!