Responsibilities Teens Should Be Doing Independently
To develop into a productive adult, teens need to learn to do things on their own, but it can feel hard for parents to give them that chance. Sometimes we think it will just be easier to get chores done ourselves, sometimes we don’t want to let go of control, and sometimes we don’t feel confident that our children are ready for new responsibilities. Despite these challenges, we cannot raise competent adults if we are always doing everything for them. We must instead equip them with the skills they need to take care of themselves and contribute to society.
To give them the skills they need, parents should encourage independence in a five step process. First, talk to your teen about a new responsibility and explain why it’s important. Second, show your teen how to do the responsibility and explain any important rules or procedure. Next, do the chore together so that you are helping your teen accomplish the activity. Then, let your teen try it by themselves. Finally, allow them to make their own mistakes. Mistakes are crucial to the learning process, and are not something to be avoided, nor should you punish your teen for them. This process builds self-esteem and confidence when teens realize they can manage themselves.
Since teens need experience to develop independence, it’s a good idea to consider what responsibilities teens should have. Here are a few responsibilities that every child should take ownership of once they turn 13:
1. Waking up in the morning
Once your child starts middle school, it’s time they become responsible for getting ready for the day. Teenagers are more than capable of operating an alarm clock, getting out of bed on time and getting ready for school without assistance or reminders. You can set them up for success by teaching them how to use the alarm and talking through their morning routine a couple of times. You can offer assistance the first week as they get used to this new responsibility. After that, parents should back off and let the child figure it out. There were likely be times your child will screw up, perhaps racing out the door with only a few minutes to spare, but that does not mean they are not ready for this responsibility. Making mistakes is part of the learning process and they will learn from the consequences. If your child misses the bus due to their own fault, be sure they experience the consequence of that action by telling them in advance that they will be required to pay you a “taxi” fee for driving them to school.
2. Making their breakfast and packing their lunch
Teens should be preparing their own breakfast in the mornings and packing their own lunches for school. A parent’s job is to make sure there is healthy food their teens like in the house so that they can make meals. These tasks offer a natural consequence if they shirk their responsibility – they will be hungry or purchase a school meal – either way it’s a good motivator to be more responsible in the future.
Many parents worry that their teens will eat too little, too much, or too unbalanced if they give up control. This might be true, but it will either happen now when you are still around to provide guidance or when they go away to college and they are on their own. If you are worried about your teen’s eating choices, set some parameters. For example, create a formula for them to follow when packing a lunch, such as one sandwich item, one fruit or vegetable, and one fun snack such as a sweet or chips. Parents can also be in charge of inspecting lunches before they leave the house.
3. Completing homework or projects
The current generation of parents is much more involved in the academics of their children than previous generations. While it’s great that parents are interested, many cross a line into interference with some even completing assignments for their children. Parents need to remember that their child’s grades are not a reflection of their parenting. The point of school is to teach children, and our teens don’t learn anything if we intervene. Parents absolutely can support and encourage their teen without doing the work for them or saving them from every academic failure.
Here are some healthy ways that parents can address a teen’s academic struggles. For the procrastinating student, keep project materials in your home. School projects do not get assigned the night before they are due, so you should not be running to the store for your teen who hasn’t taken time to plan. If they have to stay up late to complete the project, they will experience the consequence of feeling tired. It does not mean that you should jump in and help. For the student who doesn’t know how to complete a homework assignment, you can encourage your teen to request extra help from the teacher or you can hire a tutor. But, you should not complete the work for your teen. It’s a good idea to set up weekly family meetings and talk about whether anyone has projects coming up or if anyone needs any extra help in a subject. Of course, struggling students may need more help, but your average student should be able to meet deadlines without parent intervention, keep up with homework, and show up to class on time.
4. Doing laundry
Teens are perfectly capable of operating a washer and dryer. Implement this now so that your college student isn’t dragging home their laundry to you every other week. Giving your teen the responsibility of cleaning their own clothes teaches an important independent living skill, reduces your workload, prevents teens from getting mad that something important isn’t clean when they need it, and provides privacy following nighttime occurrences like menstrual leaks and wet dreams. It doesn’t mean that you can never run their laundry, but the majority of this task should fall on their shoulders.
5. Talking to teachers and coaches
A very important skill for teens to develop is to advocate for themselves. If they have a problem with a teacher or coach, they should be the one to raise the issue with the authority figure. Think of it as practice for the workforce. They must be able to speak to authority figures in their workplace, so learning how to present their problems to those in charge is vital to their future. You can certainly help your teen think through how to present a problem or what to say, but ultimately, they need to be the one who emails or talks to the teacher or coach.
Part of parenting an adolescent is backing off in areas that teens can handle themselves. Raising your teen to become a capable adult means letting them try new things, tackle new challenges, experience negative consequences, navigate failures, and ultimately feel confident in themselves.