As a secondary high school teacher, alongside parents and other carers, I play an important role in teaching responsibility to teenagers. Marge would say that developing responsibility comes more easily to some teens than others. With raising Lisa and Bart she knows the importance of instilling responsibility and she also feels the challenges. After many years of supporting students in becoming responsible adults I have written this article with the support of a Psychologist to give the best advice to parents.
1. What do we really mean by ‘responsibility’?
“It is only when you take responsibility for your life that you discover how powerful you truely are.” – Alanah Hunt
We often hear parents complain about their children of 24 behaving like they’re 13 by showing a lack of responsibility. They leave mess around the house; show disregard for other family members things; don’t spend enough time studying; perhaps can’t hold down a job and the list goes on…
We could say that Homer struggles with responsibility. If you want your teenager to grow into a responsible adult, then you must consciously teach them responsibility whilst growing up.
A responsible adult is one that was taught to be accountable for what they did whilst growing up, good or bad, by their parents. Independence and leadership were instilled in them- doing things that need to be done without being told. As the rewards are reaped, the success of making sure these ideas were effectively put in place during childhood is seen in responsible adulthood.
But don’t forget dear parents, you do not necessarily need your child to be perfect. In reality, the perfection you dream of may not exist. You only need to prepare them for the future, to make them equipped for the reality of adulthood.
The challenge many parents face is finding the delicate balance between offering proper guidance and support alongside allowing freedom whilst your kids are teens. This is the holy grail of parenting a teenager. How is this achieved? In striking a balance between freedom and guidance you will need to understand the following tips:
2. Know how much freedom your child can handle
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” – Nelson Mandela (1918- 2013).
The best way to find out is to let him or her show you. Don’t be afraid or paranoid as a parent, let them know you may give them more liberty if they show you they are responsible enough to make good decisions in certain instances. When they do, it tells you they can handle a little more.
At the same time, let your teen know lying is cowardice, doesn’t show accountability and proves they can’t handle other responsibilities. Put certain restrictions in place for a time to show disapproval. Marge demonstrates this in the Simpsons regularly with Bart.
3. Encourage helping
The last of the human human freedoms is to choose one’s attitudes.” – Victor Frankl.
How do you feel when you wake up and all the house chores have been done by your son or daughter? No one could be as proud as you. Children should know that helping others is not just right, but shows responsibility and maturity. Push them to be more independent by encouraging them to help.
The earlier you can get your teenager helping around the house the better. It’s also good to get younger children to do age appropriate jobs around the house to help out so that helping becomes normal and more of a habit.
If your teen is reluctant to help then encouraging them to work towards a reward can be effective. Keep track of their progress towards their reward by using a chart that can be stuck somewhere obvious, such as the fridge. Chat about it regularly- ask them how they’re managing, are they excited? Can they see the great impact that they’re having on the house? Give them praise for their efforts but ensure the praise is genuine and not too over-dramatised.
4. Teach your teen essential skills
“Teaching kids to count is fine, but teaching them what counts is best.” – Bob Talbert
Practical skills that equip your child to be able take on the world, even when very young, takes that child on the course to becoming independent and responsible. How to manage funds, doing their laundry, preparing meals and other simple skills will train them to solve real problems in the future. Marge constantly tries to teach essential life skills to Bart and Lisa. It’s a struggle and Lisa takes things on more easily than Bart but she realises the importance of having essential skills in developing responsibility in her kids.
5. Help them find their ‘element’
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared with what lies within us.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.
I’ve seen many kids doing incredible things in their teenage years. In the process of achieving excellence teenagers naturally will develop responsibility, but best of all, they will be nurturing their sense of responsibility through a burning passion. Try to help them see the amazing things that they are capable of. As their most important role model you are in a powerful position to shape their outlook on what is possible in life.
Everyone has a gift and many teenagers need help to figure it out. Some teenagers I have worked with have gone on to compete at a national level in sports or gone on to study at world-class universities.
The achievement itself could be big or small- it doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it is significant for your child and makes them feel a sense of accomplishment. The fantastic thing is that all teenagers are capable of achieving fabulous things; it’s just that some need more help than others to find their element and the area where they shine the most.
6. Let them know that there are consequences
“Wisdom consists of the anticipation of consequences.” – Norman Cousins.
Restrictions and loss of privileges are effective tools in teaching consequences for misbehaviour and help teens choose better next time. As hard as it seems at the time, this is a vital life lesson.
I have seen instances where teenagers have brought their PlayStations and put them in their school locker for worry about them being confiscated at home. They look to you for the boundaries and house rules, and they look to you for how to behave.
It is important that you are consistent and have clear expectations and boundaries before consequences take place so that your teen understands exactly where they ‘overstepped the mark’. Help them learn what they can do to fix the situation to make it right again. In doing this, they are learning how to take responsibility for their actions. As their biggest role model it is also key that you ‘act what you preach’ as much as you can.
7. Teach them to rise when they fail
“The voice of parents is the voice of gods, for to their children they are heaven’s lieutenants.” -William Shakespeare.
Many adults do not succeed as adults because they are afraid of failing when in fact failure is the path to success. Rewarding them for their effort even when they fail is a good way to teach this lesson. This is a key message from the famed Stanford Psychologist, Carol Dweck.
This strategy is adopted by the best teachers and using this approach shouldn’t stop at school. Using it as parents will work wonders and I’m sure will have even more impact. Having this ‘growth-mindset’ outlook is key to developing responsibility and success in all areas of life.
8. Demonstrate responsibility
“Accept responsibility for your life. Know that it is you that will get you to where you want to go, no one else.” – Les Brown
Although this can sometimes be easier said than done, it is important to actively show those values you want your child to develop. I know that we are not perfect all the time. Marge conveys this idea well in the shows- she demonstrates responsibility well. It’s important to show to your child that you do make mistakes too- but when you make a mistake, it is important to take responsibility for it.
Own the mistake, apologise- even if this means making an apology to your child- and move on. They will respect you for it and they’ll also learn how to take responsibility for their actions themselves.
9. Make accountability a way of life in your home
“It is not only what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable.” – Moliere
Every family has its own rules and expectations, which are set by parents. Most of the time, children unconsciously pick up the normal conduct about the home, whether it’s good or bad. This could be things like swearing and leaving a mess around or positive things such as using polite manners and tidying up.
Make responsibility and accountability a culture in the home. If your teen has made a mistake, ensure they are accountable. Try to let them fix the mistake themselves rather than let anyone else fix it for them.
10. You don’t always have to be their hero
“Hard times don’t create heroes. It is during the hard times that the ‘hero’ within us is revealed.” – Bob Riley
Especially during situations that may seem difficult to the child, jumping in and fixing things all the time is not healthy and will weaken their independence. Sometimes when it is possible, allow them to make discoveries within their own capacity. Let them learn their own lessons and build confidence in themselves. This will really help them thrive and develop true responsibility.
Some insight from a teenager
This awesome TEDxYouth clip gives a great perspective on the importance of developing responsibility and the needs of teens to be able to influence future generations. Check it out!
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.
I hope that you enjoyed reading this article and it has given you some good things to think about. I have written some other articles on parenting advice for teenagers, please click here to check it out.
If you have any thoughts or questions it would be awesome if you could leave a comment in the box below please and I will make sure I reply to you. How did you develop your sense of responsibility as a teenager? What challenges have you faced? What accomplishments have you made with your teen in this area? I love reading about what others think about my articles and it makes my day to get new comments. Thank you and have a great day!