Helping teens learn independence and responsibility – part 4

Parents can help teens learn independence and responsibility by helping them make careful decisions, accept outcomes and take responsibility for actions.

Michigan State University Extension offers a program called Building Strong Adolescents (BSA). BSA suggests ways to help teens learn independence and responsibility. This is the fourth article in a series titled Helping Teens Learn Interdependence and Responsibility.

Important parenting goals are to help teens make careful decisions, accept the outcomes of their decisions and to take responsibility for their actions. Parents can help teens approach their new-found independence in a responsible manner.

Teens need guidance so they can move with confidence and skill toward their destination of adult freedom and responsibility. Parents who give freedom without guidance are sending teens on a journey without a map. Teens benefit greatly from in-depth insights and experienced guidance from adults, and parents have power to directly teach teens a number of skills that will help them act responsibly.

Parents can pave the way for responsible choices and actions throughout the adolescent journey when they follow these guidelines:

Include teens in decision making. Invite teens to make plans for their freedom. This teaches them to think ahead and impresses upon them that freedom involves preparation and careful thought.

Be honest and give good information. Provide factual information about potential consequences of actions. Knowledge helps teens think through their choices and decisions more carefully.

Encourage teens to think through the problem. Challenge teens to think in-depth about issues. Help them figure out why people act in certain ways, whether or not the reasons are legitimate, and what they can do (if anything) about resolving issues. Ask teens what they think, encourage them to talk and don't let them off the hook with "I don't know," or "beats me.”

Encourage discussion. Have frequent discussions with your teen about a variety of issues. Parents need to discuss values and morals, the role of values in moral choices, and examples of responsibility and irresponsibility from everyday life. Teens that learn how to articulate their values and opinions at home are better prepared to stand up against negative societal pressures when they are on their own.

Start early. When kids are in their early childhood development and youth years, parents should start giving them opportunities to practice responsibility. Remember, one success builds upon another. Allow teens an opportunity to be independent in a particular area, and to demonstrate their responsibility.

If they are successful, increase their opportunity for independence.

If they are unsuccessful, help them think through what happened. If they fail to act responsibly you may want to:

  • Allow them to learn from the consequences of their mistakes.
  • Review the situation, go back through the decision making process, identify where they may have misjudged a situation or neglected to get either enough information or correct information.

You may also need to consider resetting your boundaries; if their lack of responsibility put them in danger (health or safety) you may need to set some tighter limits to protect the teen by decreasing their privileges; going back and requiring them to "prove" or demonstrate their ability at a lower or earlier level.

Above all, offer your own experience. Help teens evaluate decisions and learn from past experiences. Parents need to teach teens to evaluate why good choices turned out well, and how to admit and correct mistakes.

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