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How Do I Help My Teen Learn Responsibility?

Let’s talk about responsibility.  We all want to raise children that will become responsible and independent adults, right? We all realize this does not happen overnight. Your teen will not hit graduation day, move their tassel and suddenly become responsible. Learning to make wise decisions and take on adult tasks is a process of teaching, trying and trusting. 

The teaching stage should start way before your children head into adolescence. Proverbs speaks to your children and to you when it says, “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching….” There is an ongoing process that should be happening in your homes of teaching your children wise choices and living. 

If you want your children to be responsible, you need to teach them what responsibility looks like. Make sure not to just do things for your children, but stop and teach them. If you are cooking a meal for the family, teach them how to cook. They are complaining about not having any clean clothes? Instead of rushing to do laundry for them, bring them into the laundry room, and show them how you do laundry. 

The trying stage is when the instructing turns into doing. If you want your teen acting responsibly, they have to be allowed to put it into action. The book of Luke gives us the example of Jesus when it says, “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” Discipleship and teaching leads to independently trying to do what has been taught. 

The key to the trying stage is they are safe to fail and relearn with you present. Failure is okay and is actually good. We as parents are often afraid to let our kids fail, but failure is part of the path to being responsible.  It is better for them to try and fail than to never to learn at all. 

The final step is the trusting stage.  When you and they feel they are ready, let go, and trust them. Allow them to take on independent responsibility. While we want to do things for our kids and we believe it is our responsibility to take care of them, it actually is also our responsibility to make them responsible for themselves.

Here are a few handy tips to guide your pre-teen or teen toward becoming more responsible.

  1. Set expectations. There is no time to waste with this one! Make sure expectations are reasonable, and not impossible; setting expectations too high will end up exasperating both you and your teen.  It will always be easier for you to raise the bar and add responsibility than to go back and “give up” on something by allowing your teenager to stop being responsible in some area.  
  2. Make a chore/responsibility list. It’s never too late to start up a chore list! Discuss it as a family, and place the list somewhere conspicuous. However, be warned; no teen likes chores and following through won’t be easy. When your teen fails to complete assigned chores, establish consequences—like taking away their cell phone for a day. Your commitment to this will reap a harvest of good.
  3. Bring your teen into adult household decisions. After eating out at a restaurant, have your teen work out the tip (discussing it with you, of course). When your family is going to purchase something big—like a car or an appliance—bring them into the process and ask for his or her opinion. Planning a vacation? Let your teen do some research and weigh out pros and cons of decisions that affect others. 
  4. Reward them for responsible behavior. This isn’t bribery but letting your teen know when they live up to their end of the deal you are aware and proud. Appreciative words, a pat on the back, or even a couple of movie tickets for your teen and a friend will speak volumes and reinforce future responsible behavior.

Above all, let your teen know you trust them. When they try hard to make responsible decisions, respond by trusting those decisions. This one is hard—but it’s where your teen will grow the most. When your teen knows you trust them, they will be more likely to be responsible in the future.  Take the lead to begin or continue this process today, it will be worth it in the end!