Note from Daniel: This is a guest post by Alyssa Abel.
All parents want their teens to develop into sensible and responsible adults.
That’s obvious, right?
But while parents want their teens to complete their schoolwork and do their chores, it’s up to them what choices they make.
As teenagers, it’s time they make more of their own decisions, but you can still guide them down the right path.
In this article, we’ll discuss 6 ways to make your teenager more responsible.
Your teenager will never be perfect
First, it’s important to remember that your teenager will never be perfect.
Your teenager won’t always be the perfect example of a focused, kind and diligent person.
On occasion, they’ll choose to hang out with their friends instead of doing their homework. Or they might forget to follow through on their commitments.
But it’s a journey.
The teen years are a trying time. Your teen may look and act more like an adult than ever before, but they aren’t fully developed yet.
This means that their reasoning and decision-making skills are not entirely formed. As such, they won’t always make the choices that you think they should.
You don’t have to be a perfect parent either. You just need to do your best and improve your parenting skills.
Once you banish the idea of perfection, teaching accountability and responsibility becomes simpler.
Are you ready to dive in?
Let’s learn about the 6 approaches to turn your child into a responsible teen.
1. Develop clear expectations collaboratively
Through the course of our lives, we must meet certain expectations.
If you don’t fulfil your responsibilities in school, you won’t be able to get into the school or profession you want.
If you keep missing deadlines at work, you’ll soon find yourself without a job.
This idea applies to relationships and other aspects of life too.
That’s why it’s essential to ensure that your teenager understands what the expectations are.
What must they do? What specific behaviours should they avoid? What consequences will result if they behave irresponsibly?
Think about what you want from your child. He won’t get everything right the first time, so start small.
A good way to approach expectations is to set rules and boundaries together with your teenager.
Let’s say that you’d like your teen to wash the dishes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
After having a discussion with him about this, you could create a list that details your expectations. You could request that he ticks a box whenever he completes the task.
To make it feel like a team effort, you can create a list for the chores you have to do too – you can also tick the right box when you complete the chore.
And when your teen follows through, show genuine appreciation. You could simply say to him: “Thank you for washing the dishes. I appreciate it.”
What happens when your teen doesn’t follow through on multiple occasions?
Well, it’s time to have a conversation.
Don’t be accusatory or judgmental. Instead, ask him about what happened.
You could say, “I noticed that you didn’t do the dishes on Thursday. What happened?”
Sometimes, there’s a deeper issue you’ll need to help your teen address.
For example, maybe he was overwhelmed with homework that evening. He was in a rush to get his work done and forgot to wash the dishes.
Is he struggling in school? Does he need to improve his planning skills?
In some cases, you may need to implement a system of consequences. But most of the time, if you get to the root issue, this won’t be necessary.
2. Teach your teen time management skills
Time management plays a significant role in responsible behaviour.
If you’re unreliable, others won’t be able to trust that you’ll deliver – in school, work or relationships.
Teens who budget their time well will make better decisions. They’ll also be less stressed and anxious.
It’s essential to teach your teenager about time management. (By this, I do not mean that you should continually nag her to manage her time better!)
Like many other life lessons, this one starts with you.
If you’re frequently late or disorganised, your teen will follow in your footsteps. So make your calendar and reminder apps your best friends!
Teenagers have many commitments, from extra classes to extracurricular activities.
But homework remains one of the most substantial tasks they have to complete, so it’s a good place to start.
If your teen lacks organisational skills, schedule a time with her to have a planning session.
During this session, work out a rough weekly schedule by taking into account her regular commitments.
Ensure that she’s involved in the planning process, and that it isn’t just you trying to force her to agree on a schedule you’ve drawn up.
For example, if your teen gets home from school at around 4 p.m. each day, agree on a time when she will start doing her homework (maybe 5:30 p.m. or 6 p.m.).
Each weekend, you can try to organise a family session where everyone reviews their own events coming up over the next 1 to 2 weeks and plans for what tasks they need to complete.
You can do this individually or as a family, depending on what works for you.
Help your teen to estimate the amount of time they’ll need to accomplish each task.
People (adults included!) are notoriously bad at estimating how long tasks will take, so make sure there’s plenty of buffer.
Talk to your teen about how to harness her most productive times.
Most teens need at least 30 to 60 minutes to unwind after getting home from school. Beyond that, does your teen hit her peak early in the evening?
Or maybe she would do better if she goes to bed early and wakes up early to complete some tasks?
Try your best not to nag your teenager to do her homework, as you want her to build time management skills on her own.
Of course, if she starts to fall away from the schedule she has agreed upon, you’ll need to sit down with her to review the situation.
Instead of saying, “Why aren’t you getting your schoolwork done on time?” ask for her input.
Has she not been sleeping well, which has affected her concentration? Or did she prioritise her tasks poorly?
Turn the discussion into a problem-solving meeting instead of a nagging or scolding session.
3. Model consideration and empathy
While time management skills will help your teen demonstrate a sense of responsibility, consideration will take him further.
I’m sure that you want your teen to be thoughtful, polite and observant – as well as responsible.
Consideration means being aware of others’ emotions and responding appropriately.
In other words, your teenager should learn to treat others with respect, while also being less self-centred.
For example, it’s OK to feel disappointed if the grocery store runs out of his favourite breakfast cereal. But it isn’t OK to complain every day about how you’re to blame because you didn’t get the cereal before it ran out.
Of course, when a situation seems unfair, anyone would be tempted to lash out or be unkind.
But if your teenager has laid the right foundation of consideration and empathy, he’ll behave in a responsible way regardless of how he feels.
This is especially so because he considers how his actions will impact others.
Let’s say your teen has an uncle who is having a birthday party this weekend.
But your teen doesn’t want to go to the party. Instead, he wants to hang out with his friends.
Instead of forcing him to attend the party, you can have a discussion with him to help him to think through the situation.
You could ask questions like:
- How do you think your uncle will feel if you don’t go to the party?
- Is it possible for you to spend time with your friends on another day?
- If you really decide not to attend the party, what will you do to make amends?
Bring up the topic in a non-accusatory way, and you’ll get a better response from your teen.
By processing such situations with your teen, he’ll start to consider the feelings of others more often.
4. Help your teen to develop emotional control
Most teenagers experience mood swings. One day, they’re cheerful. The next day, they don’t want to leave their room.
Teenagers are going through huge changes mentally and emotionally, so these mood swings are normal.
But it’s important for them to understand that all feelings are permissible, but not all actions are.
This type of emotional management is the foundation of responsibility.
Differentiating between emotions can help teens to behave responsibly even when they have negative feelings.
Unfortunately, without intentional practice, many teens aren’t able to pinpoint what emotion they’re even experiencing.
Distinguishing between feelings of sadness and betrayal, disappointment and discouragement, frustration and anger, etc. are key in order for teens to manage their emotions.
As Dr Daniel Siegel says with regard to emotions, “You must name it to tame it.” This means that you need to label your emotions accurately to get them under control.
For example, many teens say that they feel upset in different situations, even though one time they might feel frustrated, while another time they might feel betrayed.
The more specific teens are about labelling their emotions, the more “manageable” their emotions become.
The following activities can help your teen to develop this skill:
- Journaling: Encourage your teenager to write about the feelings she experiences. Explain to her: “Your writing may not make sense, and that’s OK. Sometimes, emotions don’t make sense, but journaling will help you to process them.” Invite her to talk about what she has written.
- Drawing: Sometimes, it can prove challenging to put emotions into words. Encourage your teenager to draw or paint to express her feelings. She might use streaks of vivid colour or create comic-like sketches – whatever works to express herself.
- Listening to music: Ask your teenager about the music she enjoys. Does she like the message behind the lyrics? Is she drawn to musicians who are passionate or calm? This exercise can help her to understand her own feelings better.
As a parent, don’t be afraid to talk about the challenges you face in your own life.
When you dare to be vulnerable, it will become normal in your family to discuss emotions.
If everyone in your family is open about how they feel, it will be easier for your teen to develop the skills needed to manage her emotions.
5. Create a family culture of accountability
If you want to raise a responsible teenager, he must understand the value of accountability.
A responsible and accountable person owns up to his actions. When he makes a mistake, he admits it.
Make sure that you model this behaviour as well!
Help your teen to see that there’s intrinsic value in doing the right thing, even if the consequences for him are inconvenient or even detrimental.
When your teen is faced with a difficult choice, you want him to ask himself, “Is this the right thing to do?” instead of “If I do the wrong thing, will I get caught?”
Creating a family culture of accountability begins by emphasising the value of character development over practical outcomes.
Let’s say that your teenager comes home 1 hour after his curfew without informing you in advance.
When you ask him about what happened, he blames his friends. He claims that his friends wanted to watch a late-night movie, so everyone decided to stay out longer.
Then when he started watching the movie, he forgot to tell you that he would be home late because the movie was so exciting.
He says that he would have put his friendships in jeopardy if he had gone home early.
When your teen makes a mistake, he needs to be aware that he had a choice to do the right thing – even if he didn’t feel that way.
Without losing your cool (I know this is easier said than done!), help him to reflect on the following questions:
- Was he correct to think that he would lose his friends if he didn’t watch the movie with them?
- Why did he think it was more important to get the approval of his friends than to keep to his curfew?
- Did he think about how you would be worried about him?
- At what point could he have made the right decision to leave before the movie started?
- Were his friends really to blame for him missing the curfew?
Although you might need to enact consequences, make sure that you don’t do it in a moment of anger.
If necessary, tell your teen that you need time to think about what consequences would be suitable before you decide on them.
6. Encourage your teen to pursue self-directed goals
In order for a teenager to behave responsibly, in the long run, it must be something she chooses to do. It can’t be something she feels forced to do.
For instance, if you want your teen to be a responsible student who always works hard, then she must feel as if it’s her choice to do so.
If she feels that she’s being coerced or nagged into submitting the assignments on time, she’ll eventually act irresponsibly in this area.
How can you help your teen to become a self-motivated and responsible individual who makes wise choices?
By empowering her to set and achieve self-directed goals in various areas of her life.
Instead of continually nagging your teen about how she ought to take her schoolwork and chores seriously, think about her interests.
What are her strengths? What gets her excited?
Talk to her about how she might be able to use these traits to create something (a video, website, app, artwork, etc.) or to solve a real problem.
If it’s challenging for you to do this, engage the help of a mentor or coach.
For example, if your teen is interested in music, maybe she can learn how to compose and record a song. Through this process, she’ll learn how to write lyrics, choose a song structure, create a melody, edit an audio recording, and more.
You might need to give her guidance at the beginning. But as the project progresses, she’ll learn to be more resourceful.
These are traits that students don’t typically develop in school!
Or maybe your teen has a heart to serve the needy and underprivileged. You could help her to find ways to do so in meaningful and sustainable ways.
By creating things and solving real problems (not just math and science homework problems), your teen will develop a sense of significance.
This sense of significance will be separate from that which she derives from her performance in school and in her extracurricular activities.
As time goes by, she’ll become more self-directed and responsible.
You can’t expect your teen to make improvements in all the 6 areas right away.
You’re not perfect, and neither is your teen. So take your time as you make progress together.
I know it’s frustrating for you to observe the ways in which your teen is irresponsible.
But instead of scolding and punishing him, apply the tips in this article. After all, you can’t scold or punish your teen into becoming a responsible young adult.
Take it one issue at a time, one tip at a time, and one day at a time.
I’m sure you’ll see improvements, so keep at it!
Alyssa Abel is an education writer with an interest in parenting, education methodologies and student lifestyle. Follow along on her blog, Syllabusy, to see more of her work.