Four Ways You Can Help Your Kids Become Responsible Teens

Don't stand in the way of your teen's independence

By Kristen Fischer, Macaroni Kid Central Jersey Shore August 14, 2019

Are you helping your teen become a responsible adult? 

Or are you holding them back?

A recent poll showed parents are concerned they're doing too much for their teens: About 25 percent of parents surveyed by the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health at the University of Michigan admitted they were barriers to their teen’s independence by not taking the time or effort to give their teen more responsibility.

"This process of transitioning from childhood to adulthood includes everything from preparing for work and financial responsibility, to taking care of one's health and well-being," said poll co-director Sarah Clark. "Our poll suggests that parents aren't letting go of the reins as often as they could be to help teens successfully make that transition."

So why aren't parents letting go? Because we're busy!

In fact, 19 percent of the parents said it was quicker and less of a hassle to do things themselves. Who among us hasn't decided -- with a big sigh -- just to take out the trash, feed the dog, or do the dishes because you know if you leave it to your teenager it won't get done for days, if at all. 

But if you want to create more independent (and competent!) kids, that isn't the best solution -- though you already knew that. Here are four tips on how to give teens the skills they need to succeed -- as independent, successful adults: 

1. Know what's enough, and what's too much

"Just as not enough responsibility impedes a teen’s independence skills, too much too fast is often the more common mistake and it sets the teen up for failure," noted Dr. Shoshana Bennett, Ph.D., a psychologist from California.

2. Treat them like they’re capable—because they are

 “If you coddle children you also don't learn how competent they are at an early age. And that doubt about their competence comes across very clearly and can become a self-fulfilling prophecy,” she said.

3. Resist the urge to be a helicopter parent 

Most teens -- especially those in their early teenage years -- believe everyone is evaluating their appearance and behavior. "This makes them extremely self-conscious, and helicopter parenting can only make them more so," stated Dr. David Elkind, professor emeritus in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development at Tufts University. 

If your teen is micromanaged, it communicates a lack of trust on the parents’ part, and then the child doubts their own ability to deal with life on their own. The child can become resentful, and instead of acquiring problem-solving skills, becomes dependent on the parent or parents.

Instead, position yourself as a back-up resource, to be consulted only if the teen cannot handle the matter themselves, Clark added. 

“Self-esteem is built upon feeling one’s own worth in the world, often by accomplishing milestones on one's own,” she said. "Some parents justify taking control over certain responsibilities because they don't believe their teen is 'mature enough.' But this type of logic inhibits their teen from actually becoming more mature."

4. Give them responsibilities from the get-go

If you still have younger kids, give them responsibilities now! Elkind said teens who are not independent were likely not given enough responsibility as younger kids.

Include age-appropriate chores such as making their own beds, emptying the dishwasher, mowing the lawn, and taking out the trash -- all of which can help younger kids turn into responsible teens, and great adults.

Kristen Fischer is the publisher of Macaroni Kid Central Jersey Shore.