teen travelIn my last post, I discussed the case of Ethan Couch, a 16-year-old who drove drunk and killed four people. Many were astonished when his prosecutor successfully argued that because Ethan had not been taught about consequences or responsibility by his parents, that he did not deserve jail time.

Ethan’s parents seemed to refrain from punishment no matter how egregious his offenses. They are far below the bell curve in parental discipline; most of you would never dream of letting a young teen drink themselves to unconsciousness without repercussions. But Ethan’s history does raise the question: How do parents raise responsible teens, ready to accept the consequences of their actions, work hard for their goals, and face the realities of life?

Of course, each teen is born with their own temperament, and there is no magic equation. But I’ve gathered up some suggestions, including past posts, on strategies that may help instill a sense of responsibility in your teen.

  • Part of being responsible is learning to contribute to a family or household. Your teen should be performing chores that help keep the household running. To set a good example, so should you. If you are lucky enough to be able to afford a cleaning service or a maid, set aside certain chores and have family members take responsibility for performing them. These should be chores in common areas that everyone uses, like the lawn, kitchen, bathroom, etc. If you utilize hired help, you also have the opportunity to show respect, both for the people who you hire to perform household tasks and the hard work that they perform.
  • Your family should have clear ground rules for children and teens. A great way to increase responsibility is to have your teen contribute towards making these rules, and also be responsible for proposals to alter them as they get older. You might ask your teen what ground rules parents should have- their responses may range from hilarious to enlightening.
  • Teens should learn to communicate with respect. The best way to teach this is by example. Never belittle, mock, or humiliate your teen- or, for that matter, any family or friends. If you lose your temper and say things you don’t mean, apologize afterwards, while explaining why you got so angry and what you might do differently in the future. Expect the same from your teen.
  • Teens should learn what it’s like to work for pay. If you’re able to afford exciting summer/ break opportunities for them, save one summer or break for working. It’s hard for teens to find jobs right now, but spending a summer trying to get a job- or settling for one they don’t like- teaches its own lessons.
  • While teens are famously- and, from a developmental stance, appropriately- self-centered, try to teach your teen about the struggles others face. See if your teen is interested in working with underserved kids, the homeless, people who are ill, or abandoned animals. You can always make volunteering a family affair.
  • Help your teen gain perspective on where and when they are right now, and how it’s different from others. Now is the perfect time to give your teen a copy of The Long Road to Freedom, provided they are mature enough to appreciate it. Watch a movie from another country or another culture. Try to cultivate a fascination with how people from different countries and cultures think and act- it will serve them lifelong.

How do you try to teach your teen about responsibility- or alternately, what experiences taught you important lessons when you were young?