Most parents dream of a responsible, independent teen—one that lends a hand with household chores without being asked, always calls to check-in and also hangs out with a good crowd of friends. But, in reality, all teens are going to drop the ball on responsibility (occasionally, at least). Even we as adults do, as we’re all human now aren’t we!

One of my friends shared with me about a challenge she had with her teen not being responsible. Her son had taken her car without asking. Now I see two problems here: one is that he took the car with asking and the other bigger issue was that he broke her trust, which is the most important aspect of a healthy relationship. She called me on the phone and asked, “now how do I tackle this one?” The first thing I said to her is remember to name the act not the actor, as it’s essential to preserve self-esteem when building a child’s character. I then said recognise this as a teachable moment to correct, not shame or blame. 

I suggested that she have a calm conversation about the importance of being able to trust him. Getting angry about broken trust does no good, and makes it less likely that you will be able to engage your teen in a meaningful conversation. I gave her this example, When you are trustworthy, others can rely on you be responsible”. 

You can’t punish your child into being responsible. Forget about over-the-top punishments or ineffective rules because you’ll just end up in a power struggle. I’m not saying that your teen needs to be a perfect kid. You just need them to be ready for the realities of adulthood. To best prepare your teen for the future, it’s important to offer a balance between giving enough guidance and allowing them enough freedom. This one human quality or virtue responsibility, is so important to develop in your teen. And for us to be demonstrating it as well. 

It’s really important that you and your teen have a very clear understanding of what the definition of responsibility is. So that you are both reading from the same page. I like these definitions, and recommend you have a conversation with your teen to share them: You take responsibility for your actions and others can count on you. It’s about doing something well and to the best of your ability. People feel that they can trust you, and they know that they can rely on you to keep your agreements. I also like this definition, being responsible is the ability to “respond ably”. 

It’s not about blaming others when things go wrong either, or making excuses. Like “I’ forgot”, or “I didn’t have enough time”. Ask them to think about the affect of not being able to trust them has on your relationship, as it’s so important a parent can trust and count on them to do the right thing. 

Also start to notice when your kiddo is being responsible and point it out to them. This is called finding those teachable moments to give them an acknowledgment, for developing the quality of responsibility in them.  All you need to say is, “You were so responsible this morning when you made your own bed and put your breakfast dishes in the dishwasher”. And lastly allow your teen to make amends to you and accept their apology. 

You might like to join my free Facebook private group called Parents with Teens, Tweens and anything In-between for more resources and tools for supporting your children to be the best they can be. Just click on the link below and ask to join the group. Remember to always speak from your heart, be kind and share the love around.