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How Teens Become Responsible Adults

Responsibility can be defined as the ability to be answerable or accountable for something within one's power, control or management. So, how can a teen develop a sense of responsibility and the accountability to go with it?
09/12/2014 05:25pm ET | Updated November 12, 2014
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In this world of working parents and video games, in some families, teens can go through childhood and adolescence without a real sense of responsibility. They're occupied, but not prepared for a successful life. Having responsibility for things that matter and that contribute to the welfare of others is part of a teen's preparation for the future.

Responsibility can be defined as the ability to be answerable or accountable for something within one's power, control or management.

In her article, "Is There a Responsible Adult Trapped Inside your Teenager?", Elizabeth Wilkins refers to Robert Epstein, PhD, who says that kids in America would be well-served by being given much more responsibility.

Author of the book, The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen, Dr. Epstein contends that teens are very capable and aren't given enough responsibility or credit in their daily lives.

He makes the point that in our society, adolescence is an artificial extension of childhood, which means the teen has too much idle time. On average, he says teens actually spend 70% of their time with peers and the media, making them the role models rather than their own parents or other healthy mentors in their lives.

So, how can a teen develop a sense of responsibility and the accountability to go with it?

I believe the potential for these things is built in, and is developed through modeling from parents and other role models. Parents can help the process when a child is growing up by first modeling tasks necessary for the family as a whole, and second watching how the teen takes to the tasks.

Parents don't need to scream and yell to get them to comply... just model responsibility for them, and then watch them to identify ways to draw upon their natural skills when contributing to the family.

When a family volunteers together for the benefit of others, parents are modeling for their kids the responsibility they feel for their community, and the value of contributing to the welfare of others outside themselves.

There's also a place for contributing to the family, too. Teens who help younger siblings with necessary chores such as lawn care or dishes, have the opportunity to model responsible behavior for their younger family members, while also contributing to the family as a whole.

It's a way of life that's introduced by his parents, but becomes a part of him. As he grows, he takes it into himself as his own.

From what I've seen in my practice, kids with this background have a better sense of direction as well. They know what they want and go after it with an intense level of confidence.

And along with accountability comes self-assurance. When he fulfills responsibilities entrusted to him, he gains a sense of empowerment. His self-esteem grows, his confidence grows and he knows within himself that he's capable and learning more all the time. The praise he receives for his accomplishments is authentic, and he knows it's real.

What's most important is moving him from dependence to independence, as well as providing experiences where his efforts contribute to someone else, or the family as a whole, and then for those outside himself and his family. Eventually, he's providing for his own needs, and recognizes the necessity of his own effort to make his way in the world.