Teaching Responsibility to Teens

Parents want their children to become more responsible with age, but this is not an easy skill to teach. Ideally, teaching responsibility does not just start when your child becomes a teenage, but rather, it’s something you work to instill throughout the child’s life. From infancy to leaving the house, parents should work to gradually let children take on more responsibility. This can often be seen in extended curfews, more chores, and more decision-making opportunities as children get older.

With teenagers in particular, we see parents get frustrated as they often attempt to give children more responsibility, like chores around the house, but are disappointed when the chores don’t get finished. Don’t despair. These unfinished chores can actually be a great learning opportunity.

When chores go unfinished, the first task is to get yourself in the right mindset. As humans, it’s a natural inclination to become upset. You might start nagging the child, insist that things be done your way, or even punish the teen. However, as parents, you need to remember your long-terms goals in this situation. You don’t want to have to nag or punish in order to get the child to complete the tasks he/she has agreed to. Instead, you want your child to become more responsible, to complete tasks on his/her own, and to learn from mistakes.

When situations involving unfinished responsibilities arise, try the five step process of joint problem solving. This involves sitting down to talk with the teen about the situation and generate potential solution.

1. Describe the situation. “I don’t like it when you don’t vacuum the house like you said you would because the carpet is dirty.”

2. Both you and the teen tell how you feel about the situation. Parent – “I feel upset.” Teen – “I don’t think it’s fair that I have to vacuum the house.”

3. Brainstorm possible solutions. List any and all ideas that could solve the problem. Do not criticize any ideas.

4. Try a solution. Choose a solution to try for a specific length of time.

5. Select a time to check back. State a time with your teenager when you will be checking back in to see if the solution is working. If not, select another option from the list.

Even though teens intend to stick to the solution, they often fall short on their end of the agreement. To help avoid this, give the teen reminders. For example, if your child is going to meet friends, you might say, “Remember we agreed that the house would be vacuumed by noon.” If reminders aren’t helpful, then the solution is not working, and it is time to try another solution.

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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