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Teaching Teens Responsibility

The teen years are a time when independence looms large, but the battle to achieve much-wanted freedom rages on. This is also around the time that parents are striving to teach teens responsibility so they can grow into mature, trustworthy adults who are accountable for their actions. To get the ball rolling, parents should prepare a set of rules or guidelines, tasks and commitments, and they should be age-appropriate with clear expectations. Regardless of the family dynamics and home structure, parents desire to help teens become mature adults, but expect resistance and be prepared to explain your case. Allow your teen to voice his or her opinion whenever possible, which will encourage open communication. It is the reaction of parents that helps teens learn from their mistakes and gain a fair amount of teen responsibility, so get ready to set the right example.

Critical Thinking

Teens are not the best decision-makers, which may be in part to their brains not being fully grown. An interesting study on teen brain growth by Dr. Jay Giedd at the National Institute of Mental Health finds that teens lack brain connectivity to make decisions on the same organizational and critical thinking levels that mature adults do. The teenage brain is still growing and learning, based on the environment it lives within, and - because it is not completely grown - it still needs to be taught responsibility. Since lecturing is not always the best way to talk to your teen, it may be wise to act as a role model for your teen to the best of your ability, every day.

To teach teens responsibility, parents must focus on two dimensions of being responsible, which are thinking critically about a situation and making decisions about a situation. Both are skill sets that can greatly enhance teen self-responsibility and also responsibility to the family and to society.

So how does a parent teach teens responsibility through critical thinking? It is not as hard as you might think. First, clarify the teen’s responsibility, and ask questions on his point of view toward the responsibility.

For example, one responsibility would be to help out with the household chores. Most teens do not enjoy washing the dishes, but the fact is that it has to be done. Clarify what chores need to be done, why they need to be done, and who needs to do them. The teen may ignore or refuse the chore and responsibility. This is normal, and it offers opportunity to communicate with the teen about the responsibility. Here is an example of a discussion regarding responsibility:

Parent: The dishes were not done last night. (Note: There is no “You”—there is no blame here—only mention of the situation.)

Teen son: It’s not fair that I have to wash the dishes. You didn’t wash them either. Parent: We all agreed that we share the responsibility for washing dishes on separate nights. Teen son: You never do anything around here! Parent: I washed the dishes on Monday. It is your responsibility to do them on Tuesday. Now that it is Wednesday, there are two days of dishes that need to be washed by your sister. Is it fair for one person to do her dishes and your dishes? In all fairness, should we keep this a family responsibility? Teen son: Fine. I’ll do the dishes.

This conversation is an important step in fostering teen responsibility. First, the parent clarified what the responsibility was. Second, the parent affirmed her thoughts on the situation and asked her son to clarify his line of reasoning. Third, the parent refuted her son’s line of reasoning with logic. This way he knows what is fair and that his lack of responsibility was simply not fair to the entire family (not just unfair to the parent, but to everyone in the household). Constantly ask the teen how he came to a conclusion about a situation so you can understand his line of reasoning and give him a sense of logic about teen responsibility. It is also important that the parent does not blame him or demean him. Keep communication open by asking questions and affirming that he has family obligations.

Assumptions, Inferences and Evaluating

Another part of teaching teen responsibility is removing assumptions, inferences and openly evaluating situations together. This is becoming harder for parents because they compete with peers, society and the media to be an influencing voice. Teens are also great at making assumptions. They assume their friends have better lives, more things, and more freedom. They make wide inferences about style, music, relationships and socializing, which leads to assumptions about what is cool, acceptable, and mature. Teaching teenagers responsibility is really evaluating information and situations, and understanding the implications of their decisions. Ask your teen where she came by a certain thought or decision and what she thinks the consequences of that decision will be.

Discuss the situation of teen responsibility. What is the problem? Are grades slacking because there is too much time spent on the telephone or Internet? If that is the problem, then what are the decisions that can be made to overcome the problem? Teens need to socialize. It is self-affirming and self-enhancing to have friends, but when the relationships with friends override the teen’s self-responsibility and the household, it becomes necessary to have an open discussion and get to the root problem.

Now that the problem has been framed through a discussion with the teen, identify the possible solutions. Most teens do not really want responsibility, so it is important that they understand why they have responsibility in the first place. This will also help the parent and child identify solutions together and grow stronger. If grades are slacking because of a lack of teen responsibility toward education, discuss the choices and different solutions. This must be a discussion without blame or accusation. Perhaps the teen responsibility has slowed because she is taking on too much work or she lacks self-esteem to complete her work. What are the choices that the parent and teen can develop together to overcome the problem? What are the consequences of these choices? Ask your teen for input and you will foster the thought process that develops responsible teens.

Part of learning to become a mature adult is understanding responsibility towards family, education, the community, and oneself. Help your teenager understand the damages that can occur because of negative self-talk: “I’m stupid, fat, ugly.” This kind of thought process breaks down a teen’s self-responsibility. Help your teens by valuing them as people with opinions and giving them clear, positive self-views and positive views of others.

Accountability is about learning how to build a self-value system and affirm individual value as part of the community. This includes being responsible for the world and being part of the global citizenship by becoming involved and responsible. Teen responsibility requires using words and communication based on reasoning, love, and affirmation. The goal of parents teaching teens responsibility is to understand the point of view of the young person and at the same time, help the teen to understand why the responsibility is important. 

Are you a Pushover?

Would Nancy Reagan be proud of your ability to "just say no" or would you actually follow your friends if they jumped off a bridge? Being a pushover may make you more like-able, but it doesn't make you more respectable.

Courtesy of Everyday Health


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