It’s not uncommon to hear parents of teenagers bemoaning the lack of responsibility and maturity that their children exhibit. As kids get older and enter into the teenage years, it becomes more apparent that they’re actually approaching adulthood, whether they’re prepared for it or not.
Instilling a sense of responsibility in a teenager can be a very challenging prospect, but it can also help them to avoid succumbing to peer pressure or failing to learn important life skills as they grow into productive, capable adults.
Let Them Experience Natural Consequences
It’s normal to want to limit your teen’s exposure to disappointment, failure and hurt as she grows into an adult. However, shielding her from the natural consequences of her more irresponsible behavior will only make it more difficult for her to connect her choices to those consequences. While you certainly shouldn’t allow your child to behave recklessly or take dangerous risks without intervening, you also should think twice before stepping in to protect her from the inconvenience or even disappointment of making an irresponsible choice. For instance, nagging and cajoling your teen to collect her laundry or pay her cell phone bill will probably only make her more likely to resist in an attempt to test boundaries and assert her independence. Allowing her phone to be shut off or her clothes to go unwashed as a result of her choice not to manage those tasks, however, can help her to understand the importance of managing her responsibilities.
Model Responsible Behavior
While a teenager may not show many signs of listening to what you say, you can be certain that she’s watching the things that you do. Demanding her to behave responsibly while allowing her to see you making decidedly irresponsible choices is not only ineffective, it can also be downright offensive to kids. Taking a “do as I say, not as I do” approach to parenting doesn’t usually help your children gain the skills or learn the lessons that they need to learn, so be sure that you’re practicing what you preach when it comes to accepting responsibility and behaving accordingly.
Minimize Large, No-Strings-Attached Purchases
It’s become something of a rite of passage for teenagers to receive vehicles and other pricey objects as they come of age, but simply presenting them with such items without requiring that they take ownership for care and maintenance of them, or make any financial investment of their own, can cause your teen to feel as if she’s entitled to such grand gestures. Helping your teen to purchase a car but insisting that she make part of the payments, purchasing a car outright but requiring her to pay for the insurance, and making sure that she alone is responsible for the care and upkeep of her things can help her learn more about how to be responsible and that she has to earn the things she wants rather than them just being given to her.
When your teen knows that she can approach you with her problems, concerns or questions, she may be more likely to do just that. Part of being responsible is learning how to admit when you need help, and learning from the experiences she has along the way. Make sure that your child knows she can come to you when she’s feeling pressured or anxious so that she’ll be more likely to address her problems than to seek an irresponsible, escapist solution that could have far-reaching implications.
Make a Chore List
If your teen wasn’t responsible for keeping track of and completing a list of chores as a child, instituting a policy of doing just that after she reaches adolescence can be a struggle. Still, she needs to understand that there are tasks in life that must be completed, even if they’re distasteful or less than thrilling. Giving your teen a list of chores and some real-life, practical consequences that accompany her failure to complete them are two ways of helping her to gain responsibility through experience and consequences.
In today’s busy world, sitting down to family dinners can seem like a major inconvenience. Studies at Emory University, The National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University and a white paper study by Dr. William J. Dougherty all show, however, that kids and teens that regularly share meals with their families have lower rates of obesity, higher academic performance, are less likely to develop or struggle with eating disorders, have higher self-esteem, and have lowered risks of depression, substance abuse and teen pregnancy than their peers whose families don’t share meals together. Preparing and sharing dinner as a family unit can help your child make more responsible choices and be more capable, productive and successful in adulthood.