How to make teens responsible and independent

Written by Avantika Bahuguna
Published: November 20, 2022
An ex-journalist and editor, Avantika Bahuguna is a popular mom influencer based in Mumbai with a decade of experience in parenting and community building. She has hosted 100 plus parenting sessions online and otherwise and was a co-host on the digital parenting show Nine Months that was telecast across Network 18 digital platforms and Voot.

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Meet any parent and they would agree, if there’s any part of parenthood they dread the most, it’s teenage. And as a mom of an almost 12-year-old daughter just about to enter her teens, let me tell you that I have already got a few glimpses of the temper tantrums and mood swings that I feel would be a normal part of our household in the coming years. 

Isn’t teenage considered to be the most challenging time for parents? But let’s also agree that it is the most turbulent time for your child too because they’re emotionally and physically going through a lot of change which, most of the time, they’re unable to fathom. And, that’s also the age your child is about to enter adulthood and in a way big enough to handle responsibilities and function independently but not big enough to make choices without your guidance and support. So many times they would want to be doing things on their own without any help from anyone, leave alone their parents and for the first few instances, we would just be gaping at them thinking in our heads when did this little sweet child of mine grow up! 

Temper tantrums, mood swings, bodily changes, the intent to be different and act adult-like– Isn’t this too much to handle for both teens and parents? What are we as parents of teens supposed to do and how do we help our kids navigate these choppy waters of teenage? 

Well, from my own experience I’d say it is tough but it is not impossible to ensure a smooth sailing. Here are a few things I follow to make my daughter a more independent and responsible teen. You can try them too:

1. Make them feel involved: The one thing I noticed once my daughter turned 11 was this sudden urge to behave like an adult and share household responsibilities to show that she is helping me out. She would often ask if she could water the plants and pick up the laundry. She even volunteered to make tea for me in the evening during the weekend and I helped her do that. Simple tasks like filling up the bottles, dusting the furniture and shelves and folding her laundry were a few chores she loved doing and slowly became a part of her routine as she wanted to share the household responsibilities. 

The other thing that I started doing religiously was having a discussion while thinking of what stuff to buy for the house, even buying daily rations and groceries and would ask if she needed anything. I would also encourage her to buy things from the local Kirana shop on her own, in my presence of course, and see that she collected the right amount of change. She would be delighted to do that and while it meant buying a treat for her every now and then, it was a way to encourage her to share household responsibilities. Making teens feel involved and important is the best way to inculcate responsibility in kids at a very early age and make them more independent.

2. Communicate, communicate and communicate: Often as parents we expect our kids to behave or act in a certain way without really communicating it to them and, unless they’re told loud and clear, how will they know what has to be done? This is why it is so critical to communicate expectations and set them straight from the beginning. If screen time is for thirty minutes every day, let them know what they need to do before that. Similarly, if preps have to be made for the next day’s school, make sure they know what routine is to be followed before they go out to play with their friends or ride the bicycle. And do not set these as instructions, ask them how and what they want to do by having an open discussion and then taking a call. It should always be two-way communication and not a one-way fare. Teens need to be involved and asked for opinions. That’s the first step to making them feel more responsible and independent.

3. Give them their much-needed space and privacy: During the pandemic, my daughter used to spend a lot of her time on the laptop for online schooling and naturally she started searching for stuff on google and YouTube. Initially, I was a bit hesitant as she was not really using any screens before 2020 but I  had no choice. Also, she is almost twelve now and I realized that it was okay for her to be on the laptop for some time during the day, as long as she was following online safety measures. So I had a discussion with her on online safety and what are some things she should be following when dealing with the online space.  She loved that discussion and was happy that instead of scolding her I made her more aware of the digital world by having an open dialogue with her. I made her realize that I was anxious about her being on the laptop not because I don’t like it but because I was worried for her safety.

As parents, we need to understand that teens value their space and privacy and parents need to respect their boundaries. This needs a lot of love, support and faith from the parents’ side and while hyperventilating at the thought of your child shutting the door of his room every now and then would set the alarm bells ringing, chiding them or scolding them would only make things worse. Be patient and give them a little space and time.

4. Give them your love and support: Lastly, all the physical and emotional changes that our kids face during their teenage years can be taxing for them and perhaps this is the time they need a lot of love, support and TLC. Bodily changes for once can be overwhelming for some and the appearance of acne, body hair and weight gain might make them irritable and moody. 

Positive affirmations and reassurance by parents about this being a temporary phase during this time would boost their morale and encourage them to communicate expectations and other things with you openly. Don’t forget that it is a difficult age for both of you and you have to be there for each other at all times.

Expert Speaks: Tips to make teens more responsible and independent 

“Being a teenager is a time of confusion, making mistakes and learning from them while navigating a world where you feel like a grown-up most of the time but still need guidance and support from your parents.  Add into the mix social media, phones and the internet and teenagers are struggling to find the balance between acting their age and learning to take on more responsibility as they grow up,” says Shruti Nedungadi, a psychologist working in the Mental Health space for the last 8 years and specializing in working with children with special needs and typically developing children. 

“For parents as well, they have a tough time setting boundaries for their teenagers and allowing their teens some freedom to choose their path for themselves while ensuring that they are making informed choices!” she adds.

Here are a few tips that Shruti feels will help your teenager become more responsible:

  1. 1. Start off with something simple: Start with responsibilities that you know they can fulfil. This will give your child a sense of accomplishment and make them confident to take on more challenging tasks in the future.
  3. 2. Involve your teenager in discussions: Get them involved in the ways that they can handle responsibility and how much they can take on. This is going to make your teenager feel more in control and more likely to give them a sense of accountability
  5. 3. Get your teenager to help out at home: Divide chores between all the family members and create a reward system for the same. A reward does not have to be a material reward like internet access, later curfew etc. A reward can be praise, acknowledgement etc. This gives them a form of internal motivation to continue the chores. If possible, change the tasks every few months to avoid boredom
  7. 4. Set expectations regularly– As adults, we understand that all our tasks come with certain expectations that we are required to fulfill. If we are unable to meet those expectations, then there are consequences to face. By sitting down with your teen and clearly establishing the expectations and consequences, you are helping them understand why they need to do what they have been asked to do. This brings in an automatic sense of responsibility in them
  9. 5. Show consistency– The best way to teach your teenager responsibility is to be consistent with your behaviour as well. If your teen completes the chores that they are supposed to do then follow up with praise/ reward based on what you have decided. If your teen does not follow through, ensure that they are facing the pre-decided consequences. This will help your teen develop a sense of accountability.
  11. 6. Help them manage their time– Teenagers often have multiple things happening like school work, homework, extra-curricular activities, hobbies etc. Often they may be missing out/ skipping certain tasks due to an inability to manage their time well. Help your teenager understand their schedule and develop one which they can actually follow. Review this with them especially if you feel like they are unable to keep up. Ask them about what they can do to make their schedule work for them better.
  13. 7. Talk to your teen openly– Dealing with emotional and physical changes in their teenage years can be stressful and overwhelming in itself. To add to this, teenagers often feel like nobody understands them and that they are going through all this alone. Create an environment at home where your teen feels open to come and talk to you about things that are bothering them. You can easily do this by asking them for their advice on something that is happening in your life or even by talking about how stressed/ overwhelmed you may be. This is a simple way to understand any issues that your teen may be facing and help them find a solution for the same.

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The views expressed are that of the expert alone.

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