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Three Ways To Teach Your Teenager How To Be Responsible

My sixteen-year-old son recently visited his doctor for his annual wellness check.  In the examination the doctor went over the routine things (height, weight, immunization, etc).  One thing that the doctor did which I found interesting was that she started probing about other aspects of healthy growth that is not necessarily associated with physical growth: She talked to my son about the emotional and mental growth required for a healthy transition to adulthood.  Basically, she asked him, “In two years you are going to be an adult and perhaps go off to college.  Will you be ready?”   My son, being a teenager said of course he was going to be ready.  My wife and I thought otherwise.  He has a long way to go.  Our children grow up so fast. From the time they are born we are conditioned to nurture and protect them.  However, once they become teenagers, we have to prepare them to “leave the nest”.   To do this successfully, our kids have to become self-sufficient and responsible.  As parents, this can be one of the most difficult tasks we face because it runs contrary to our natural instincts to keep them safe.   

I will be devoting the next few weeks discussing how to help our teenagers become adults.  This week I will explore the importance of teaching our kids responsibility.  Learning to be responsible is in my opinion the most vital aspect to becoming an adult.

How Do You Make Your Teenager More Responsible? 


1.  Give Your Children Responsibility

We do everything for our kids when they are growing up.  We feed them, clothe them, and clean up after them.  We do this so often it becomes second nature to us.  However, for our kids to become adults, they have to learn to take care of themselves.  If your kids already have chores then great.  They are on their way.  However, If the chores are tied to an allowance then you might want to consider slowly weaning them from the money motive.  The satisfaction and pride of knowing they took care of their responsibilities should be a reward in itself.  If they don’t already have responsibilities, their teenage years is the time to start giving them some.  Here are a few household tasks that they can do now to prepare them for life on their own are:

Cleaning their own rooms

Cleaning the bathrooms

Doing their own laundry

Cooking basic meals

Washing the dishes

Emphasize that these tasks you are asking them to do shouldn’t (or should no longer) be considered “chores” because chores have the connotation that they are doing things for our benefit.  Rather, these tasks are the basic skills they will need to do once they are no longer living under your roof.  Let them know by providing them with their own responsibilities, you are helping them to become adults.  To get buy-in from your teenagers, sit down with them and discuss the various household duties there are and how all of you can work together to get them done.   Have them make some decisions on what tasks they would like to do, when they would like to do it, and what they believe a good job looks like.

2.  Set  Clear Expectations

Once you and your teenager have mutually decided what responsibility they will be taking on, explain to them what your standards are for properly meeting that particular responsibility.  The expectations for successful performance should be clear to minimize confusion, frustration, or arguments.   For example, the agreed upon responsibilities could be “I will make my bed every morning before going to school and clean my room every Saturday morning.”  

It is also important to let them know the consequences if your expectations are not met.  For example, “If I don’t make my bed each morning or clean my room on Saturday, I will lose my video game privileges.” Disciplining our kids becomes much harder as they grow up but if we do not continue to discipline our teenagers and set boundaries for them, it might be much harder for them to learn self-discipline when they become adults.  Consistency is key. If we do not take it seriously, neither will they.

3.  Trust Them To Make Their Own Decisions

When our children are young, we made all of the decisions for them. We decided the who, what, when, where, and how of their lives.  We signed them up for sports, set up play dates, and decided where they would go to school.  Things change as they get older and they gradually want to be more independent.  Teenagers as we know, have a mind all of their own and they are not afraid to express it.  They are discovering that they are individuals separate from us and they want to discover what this new independence means.  Instinctively we want to protect them and shield them from disappointments and mistakes.  To help them become responsible adults, we have to learn to let go a bit and let them make gradually make their own decisions (as long as it is not harmful, like consuming drugs and alcohol).  For example, your teenager might decide after years of playing piano, they no longer want to play it.  While we can force them to continue playing, they will resent us for it.  The best we can do in this and all situations where they want to make a decision on their own is to have a respectful adult-like discussion with them.  Have them articulate the reasons for why they want to do something and talk about the pros and cons.  If the situation warrants it and you are comfortable with it, allow them to make the decision themselves.  Giving them the opportunity to make their own decisions, strengthens trust with our kids, and demonstrates that we are starting to treat them like adults.  

A good way to encourage and reinforce the importance of making good decisions is to start off slowly.   At first, allow them to make small decisions then allow them greater freedom as they demonstrate responsible behavior.  For example, make a mutual decision on when they should be home on a weekend evening.  Reward your teenager by letting them know that if they meet your expectations and demonstrate consistency, you will give them the freedom to make more decisions.  At the same time, let them know the consequences for not meeting your expectations.

With every decision comes the possibility of success or failure.  One of the main reasons we are hesitant about allowing our kids to make decisions on their own is that we don’t want them to experience failure or hurt.  Learning from failure is a very important skill to learn as an adult so we have to provide them room to make mistakes and learn from them.  Teenagers who are able to cope with failure have a tendency to be more resilient as adults.  

By slowly giving our teenagers increasing responsibilities, setting clear expectations, trusting them, and giving them room to fail, we will help our kids grow into responsible adults.

Next week I will talk about how to help our teenagers manage their own money. If you have any questions before then, please feel free to each out! 

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This content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information, and provided by Attune Financial Planning.  Please consult your financial, legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information only.