How do you teach a teenager to be responsible? In some ways they seem like adults, and in other ways they seem like children. It is a very confusing time for parents. Most people know these are crucial years in terms of setting up good habits for the rest of the teenager’s life, but helping them become responsible step by step is very challenging.
Firstly, take stock of what your teenager does well. If your teen is really good about knowing when they have soccer practice, and what each friend is doing on a Saturday night, that is a sign of responsible thinking. That at least shows they have the capability to be organized. Build on this. Maybe you tell your teen to take responsibility for the sports schedule, and that they need to give you a 24 hour head’s up before you need to drive them somewhere. If they forget, take them at your convenience. Don’t drop everything and rush. To be fair though, if they do tell you about needing a ride somewhere with the agreed upon notice, get them there on time. When I was a teen my parents often dropped me off late at practices, games and sometimes even school. It was really frustrating!
Do not give your child an allowance. I know many people think this will help the teen learn to live on a certain number of dollars per day. However, getting an allowance simply because you exist is like getting welfare. Provide your teen an opportunity to earn the money you give them. It’s fine to give them a set amount each week, but it should be in exchange for a set number of completed chores. You also get a set amount of money from your company each paycheck, but you have to earn it; why shouldn’t they live under the same premise? Teaching your teen to work for money motivates them to work harder. It teaches the relationships between working harder and getting paid more, and working smarter and getting paid more. It won’t take your teen long to learn that working for you only pays $5 per hour, so getting a real job that pays $10 is working smarter.
Put your house in order. If you take care of your spouse first, and children second, they will learn responsibility. For single parents of course this won’t apply, and that’s fine. For all parents though, you show your adolescent a lot about responsibility when you keep your home clean, picked-up, and in good condition. Showing your teen that you take care of your possessions helps them see an example of hard work and self-discipline. This goes a long way in teaching your teen to be responsible.
These are just a few examples of how to teach responsibility to a teenager. If you didn’t notice, they all require you to be responsible too. If you work hard, you will pass this along to your kids most of the time. Discipline coupled with sensitivity and love is also absolutely essential. Do not give your teen everything, even if you can afford to do so. As a side-bonus, the more they earn things, the better their self-esteem will be. You know your child best of anyone so figure out ways that work with their personality. Some kids respond really well when they’re paid for As and Bs, and for others this really isn’t a good idea. Teaching responsibility isn’t one size fits all, but it is a must for all.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT