The great thing about teenagers is that they really want to be independent, so this part of your job is rather simple in that it’s something they really want. But it can be hard to know when to loosen the leash. However, like most things in life, with independence comes responsibility. It’s our job as parents to start giving our teenagers more independence and responsibility in little bites so that by the time they leave the nest they’re independent, responsible adults. If you start with the following as young teens, by the time they’re college age, they’ll be in more control of themselves and also be ready for leaving the nest.
Let Them Suffer Natural Consequences — Teenagers are old enough to take some responsibility for themselves including their schedule, what they wear, whether it is clean or not, and even if their teeth are brushed. It can be difficult to watch a teenager go out the door without a coat knowing it will be cold later. If Mom’s taxi or the bus leaves at a certain time and the teenager isn’t ready, he or she misses school, walks, or foots the cost for a cab. It’s concerning when your teenage son looks like he has not bathed in weeks, but sooner or later his peers will ensure that he does. You won’t even be able to get him out of the shower. It will only take a couple of times to suffer the natural consequence of the action, and then learn the right thing to do.
Let Them Get A Job — Even young teenagers can do various jobs from extra chores around the house, to babysitting, to lawn mowing to earn money for extras. It’s important that you define extras and make it clear that you’re not responsible for buying those extras whether it’s more than two movies a month, or shoes that cost more than 35 dollars. If you define what you will do, then they can better understand why it’s important to earn money. If they’re job age, let them get a job outside of school and home because this will make them feel independent when they get to put their very own check into their very own checking account. Then they’ll also learn by the responsibility of keeping track of that money. Make sure that money is for more than just pizza and games too. Make them responsible for a portion of their needs too.
Let Them Do Their Own Homework — You’d be shocked at how many parents are still sitting down with their teenager and going over every single page of homework with them. This is a huge mistake. You won’t be with them at college, and they’ll be expected to do everything themselves. In fact, unless your teenager is getting into a lot of trouble at school, and extra supervision is in order due to a disability, it’s best if you stay out of this completely. You already went to school. It’s their turn. Help a bit if directly asked, but if you can direct them how to find the help elsewhere too. For instance the Khan Academy is a free online resource where you can watch videos of many different types of lectures, especially Math. Giving them the tools to work on their own is going to teach them to be responsible for their own learning.
Give Them Household Chores — Even if an older teen has a job outside the home, all children should have chores they do without expectation of payment just for the reason that they are part of the family. You do household chores without compensation. They should do. It will teach them how to be independent and respectful roommates someday. A good rule of thumb is that anything in their room or that is theirs should be cleaned, washed, and handled only by them for free. But also, common communal areas such as the kitchen, living room, bathroom, etc… should also be kept clean and organized by all members of the family. Have a weekly communal chore rotation so everyone gets to learn how to clean the toilet and take out the trash.
Additional Resource: Real Life Guidance Guide to Understanding Your Teen This toolkit offers parenting help and help solve the mysteries in understanding your teen.