My Turn, Antwaun Thompson: The power of teen personal responsibility — taking charge of your life

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 11, 2022

By Antwaun Thompson

Teaching teens personal responsibility is a key component of life that they’ll rely on into adulthood. Through the method of creating and earning trust, teenagers will design a level of belief with this that will enable them to hold personalized responsibility. They are mistakenly taught that there are no consequences when they make mistakes, commit crimes, abuse alcohol or drugs. They don’t discern that their actions have genuine implications like detention or suspension from school. There are three vital components that will improve teen personal responsibility: simplicity, effort and attitude.

Teens are often faced with decisions that they are not always prepared to make. A skill essential to develop in kids early on is personal responsibility. This means teaching them to take control of their own choices and decisions. Personal responsibility can help in many areas of your life, including finances, relationships, health, and schoolwork.

I’ve seen it before, so long as kids are in their parent’s house and have things taken care of for them, they don’t pay much attention to things like food, laundry, or finances. When they go off to college, where they are entirely responsible for themselves, the first few months are a huge adjustment. A healthy diet carefully maintained by parents turns into late-night pizzas and energy drinks. Because the kids never learned the value of money, they run out quicker paying for outings and online shopping. The sense of personal responsibility was never encouraged in them, so you can’t blame the kids entirely. So… how can we as adults help kids take up personal responsibility?

You must start with simplicity: give them the responsibility of throwing out the trash every night, for instance. It’s a small task, and it takes no more than 20 seconds. Make it a permanent part of their chore list and let them build a commitment to the task for a few months. Once they have that down, you can give them another responsibility.

It’s important to make sure that the tasks you assign are age-appropriate and that your kids can handle them. Taking out the trash and walking the dog works for younger kids, but handling finances for a month may be more appropriate for a high schooler. If you give them too much responsibility too soon, they’re likely to get overwhelmed and lose interest. The point is to help them understand the importance of little things like keeping their space clean and caring for themselves.

And, of course, you’ll need to provide some guidance and support along the way. But if you take it slow and steady, you’ll be surprised at how capable and responsible your kids can become. Building these new habits requires consistency, and consistency comes with effort.

Personal responsibility can be daunting for someone starting out. After all, they have gone a long while without having to worry about things like food or money. Nevertheless, a small amount of effort on the task on a consistent basis will make things easier in the future.

Effort can look like your child making a schedule that accommodates all their chores and commitments. It can also look like respect for other people’s time and space. When you are running late for work and can’t make it home in time, if they volunteer to make dinner, that’s personal responsibility, and you should praise the effort to encourage that behavior. Effort can also present itself as self-control. If your child is taking personal responsibility for their health by cutting out fast food, acknowledge this and tell them they’re doing well. This will encourage them to keep up the good work.

Personal responsibility is also about taking care of your personal belongings. If your child is keeping their room neat and tidy without being asked to, this shows they are taking on some personal responsibility. Acknowledging this will show them that you notice and appreciate their efforts. By encouraging effort, self-control, and respect for others, you can help your child become a responsible adult who is ready to take on the world.

It’s no use being good at managing money or keeping your space clean if you’re complaining about it the entire time. Yes, taking responsibility and showing up for yourself day after day is hard work, but a bad attitude will discourage good behavior and quickly steer you onto the wrong path.

Let’s look at an example. You absolutely hate making coffee at home and prefer to grab a Starbucks, but you’re trying to cut back on your expenses. While you’re doing a good thing by being responsible with your money, you’re starting your mornings hating yourself for making the decision to make coffee at home. If you keep complaining about it, how long do you think your habit will last? You’ll probably go right back to spending your money on Starbucks in a week.

Instead, if you focus on how saving your money will allow you to go on that trip you’ve been dreaming about or that watch you’ve been meaning to gift yourself, you are much more likely to stick to making coffee at home without a fuss.

That’s why attitude is the most important thing when it comes to personal responsibility. If your child dislikes cooking, there is no chance they will cook for themselves in college. If they don’t understand how to budget and don’t care to learn, they will run into problems in real life. Instead, if you teach them to focus on the positives and work towards an end goal, they will want to put in the effort and work!

Antwaun Thompson is the owner of Coach T’s Corner and executive director of JLT Fieldhouse. This is an excerpt from his book, “The Ultimate Guide to Success: For Preteens and Teens”