Teaching your teens how to be responsible is not an easy task. So here's 18 ways to teach and instil responsibility even in the most reluctant of teens.
Related: Life skills for kids
- Set expectations
- Give them chores
- Encourage your teen to show initiative
- Give them some responsibility
- Allow your teen to make choices
- Trust your teenager when they are out
- Talk about consequences
- Reward your teen
- Get your teen to volunteer /get a job
- Explain needs vs wants
- Help your teen set goals
- Instil accountability
- Explain different responsibilities
- Respect your teen individuality
- Time management skills matter
- Be a good role model – talk about your responsibilities
- Be consistent – observe, help, advise – but don’t let them off
- Realise your teenager will never be perfect
Why should you teach your teenager responsibility?
There are many benefits to teaching your teenager how to be a responsible person. Becoming responsible is not only good for society but also their own life. When teens are required to take on responsibility, they learn self-discipline, time management, empathy, and accountability.
When should you start teaching your teenager responsibility?
Teaching responsibility should start early because the sooner you start, the easier it is to build on. Young children seek responsibility and want to help you with the shopping or cleaning up because it makes them feel grown up. Take these opportunities so that helping out is already the norm when they become teens.
How to teach responsibility to a teenager
1. Set expectations
The reality is that most responsibilities are not fun, so teens naturally don't want to do them. Why clean their room when they can chat on WhatsApp and why do their homework when they can watch TikTok? It's why teens need clear expectations around tasks and behaviour that help them to practise responsibility and accountability.
2. Give them chores
Studies show household chores help kids build responsibility. A Harvard University study found that "chores were the best predictor of which kids were more likely to become happy, healthy, independent adults." In her book "How to Raise an Adult", Julie Lythcott-Haims, former dean of Stanford University, agrees. "When young people have been expected to roll up their sleeves and pitch in, it leads to a mindset of pitching in in other settings, such as the workplace. Not giving kids chores deprives them of the satisfaction of applying their effort to a task and accomplishing it."
3. Give them some responsibility
To become capable adults, teenagers need to become responsible and make decisions on their own. It’s why they need specific tasks that teach them responsibility with built in consequences. For example, put the responsibility on them to revise and do their laundry or to get somewhere on time for their friends.
4. Encourage them to show initiative
As part of taking responsibility for doing things, make it clear that it's also their responsibility to remember to do it and show initiative. For example, if their job is to empty the dishwasher and see dirty plates on the side, they could show initiative by reloading the machine.
5. Allow your teen to make choices
One of the best ways to instil responsibility is to allow your teens to be responsible for some of their own choices. Decision-making is an important skill that teens must learn to master therefore, if they choose not to take a coat when it’s cold or not to come home in time for dinner they have to face the consequences.
6. Trust your teenager when they are out
As your child gets older, it can be challenging to step back and trust them when they are out in the world. Fear can get the better of most parents, but you need to give them the space to be responsible because it signals to your teen that you believe they are capable of making good decisions.
7. Talk about consequences
Consequences aren't a punishment but a direct effect of an action. For example, if you spend all your money you can’t go out. Or if you stay out later than agreed you can’t go out next time. The goal is to show your teen the benefit of positive choices.
8. Reward your teen
Be sure to reward your teen for taking responsibility. This makes your teen feel good and helps them trust in their decisions and the benefits of taking responsibility. A reward could be anything from praise to money to an extension on staying out/going to bed to other privileges.
9. Get your teen to volunteer /get a job
A great way to teach responsibility is to encourage your teen to get their first job or volunteer. With more than seven in ten young people in the UK saying that earning their own money is important to them, your teen will be open to finding work and learning how to be responsible in the real world.
10. Explain needs vs wants
Part of being responsible is knowing how to differentiate between needs and wants. This is essential because, at some stage, your teen will need to pay bills, so they have to be able to put their wants to one side and prioritise their needs.
11. Help your teen set goals
An ideal time to talk about goal setting is when your teen says they want to do something. Working towards a goal will teach them a lot about responsibility and help keep them motivated. For example, they want driving lessons, so encourage them to earn extra money and save it saying you'll pay half if they do.
12. Instil accountability
Show your teen how to be accountable with your own behaviour. If you make a mistake, admit it, and make it right. For example, if you blame your teen for something they didn't do, step up and apologise. The same goes for not doing something you said you'd be responsible for, such as paying a bill. Admit it and make it right so they can see you are accountable.
13. Explain different responsibilities
Teens need to realise that responsibilities are about more than school work and chores. Talk to them about financial and career responsibilities and even social ones.
14. Respect your teen's individuality
Individuality plays into responsibility, which is why you may be at odds with your teen. Moral stances, ideology and social outlook, can all affect what your teen thinks is responsible behaviour. If this is the case, draw a line between being disagreeable and being disrespectful but be open to discussion.
15. Time management skills matter
Having to do chores they are responsible for, even when busy, helps teens to learn how to manage their time. Real life will require them to be responsible for many things, even when overwhelmed and busy, so they need to know that time management matters.
16. Be a good role model
As with all parenting, model what you say about responsibility; they aren't going to listen to you about acting responsibly if you park on double yellow lines or jump the queue. At the same time, talk about all your adult responsibilities, from being dependable so people can count on you to meeting your work and family commitments, paying your bills, and being accountable for mistakes.
17. Be consistent – observe, help, advise – but don't let them off
As a parent, we never want to see our kids struggling, yet, stepping in and letting things slide around their responsibilities is common when you hear teens complaining. Observe and advise, but don't do something for them. All this teaches teens is that they can get out of their responsibilities if they complain enough.
18. Realise your teenager will never be perfect
We all make mistakes, and no one makes mistakes like a teen. However, mistakes are how they learn, and it's only by being irresponsible that they will learn to become more responsible.
Teaching financial responsibility with GoHenry
A cornerstone of adult responsibility is knowing how to manage all areas of your financial life, from budgeting and saving to investing and tracking your expenditure. A GoHenry prepaid debit card for teens helps them to learn these financial responsibilities by giving them a place to handle their money. The GoHenry app also comes with Money Missions, where teens can learn more significant financial lessons from understanding credit and debt, stocks, shares, and investing.