Raising responsible, considerate teens

Teen years are a difficult passage for parents and children. Teenagers are fighting for independence, dealing with peer pressure, and learning responsibility for homework assignments, relationships, and career plans. For parents, there’s additional worry and concern for their child’s safety. A recently released movie ("Before I Fall") addresses the teen years through a teen's poignant narration and exposed choices. The main character, Sam, experiences a continuous cycle of reliving the same day. Although each day is the same, she learns a new lesson that brings her closer to being a more considerate and responsible person. Through this journey, viewers watch Sam try to change the outcome of some of her decisions.

Unfortunately, we can’t relive the same day until we get it “right,” but this movie shows the importance of children learning how their actions impact their lives AND the lives of those around them. You create your own reputation and protecting your reputation includes these three actions:

1. Learn to hold yourself accountable for your decisions. Parents who do everything for their children do them a great disservice. Children don’t learn how to be responsible from a book; they learn it by completing chores and being held accountable for their words and actions. Here are some tips to teaching teens responsibility:

  • Give your child chores and hold them accountable for them. Teens should be responsible for helping the family by doing chores.
  • Hold them accountable for their homework assignments and behaviors at school. If they get in trouble in school and have to make up an assignment, that is their problem – not yours.
  • Do not “overdo” things for your child. They need the struggles to make them stronger.

2. How you treat others matters. In “Before I Fall,” we glimpsed into the cruelty of teen girls. Most parents are prepared to console their teen if they are bullied at school, but what do parents do if their child is the bully? Parental denial is a disservice to your child. Here are ways you can intervene and help your child stop bullying:

  • Talk and engage with your children and begin at a young age. It’s not always easy to talk to your teens, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. If you cannot get through to them, seek a professional’s help. Dialogue is one of the most important aspects of a bully-proof plan.
  • Be an example. How you treat your partner and children matters. Bullying is a choice, and children learn bully behavior from where they spend the most time. Be aware of how you talk about other people in your home, your road rage in the car, and your tone of voice with service staff.
  • Hold your child accountable. Make it clear that to bully someone is a choice and they can choose differently.
  • Treat the problem. Your response to bullying behavior will depend on the incident. Talk with teachers, guidance counselors, and your family doctor. If your child has a history of arguing, uncontrolled anger, or defiance seek counseling with a therapist.

3. Self-respect is built from the inside out. A common theme from the movie was “become who you are.” This message is an important one for teens who experience peer pressure to be someone they aren’t. Resisting peer pressure while maintaining self-respect is easier said than done. Parents can help by doing these three things:

  • Teach your child to think from someone else’s perspective. Teenagers are very self-focused. Ask your teen, “How would you feel if they did that to you?” This helps teens rethink their behavior and make a better choice.
  • Help your child think of alternative options and possibilities. Every situation has numerous solutions, but when teens become emotional they can only see one. They’ll build more confidence and self-respect if they keep their options open.
  • Help remind teens of their strengths by focusing on them. Teens are self-critical, and peer pressure usually influences them more when they feel badly about themselves. Remind them of who they are and what is special about them to build confidence and self-respect.

No other time in parenting is more challenging and rewarding as the teen years. The child you raised is now a teen and pursing their goals and life separate from you. Giving them a strong foundation of self-respect, resilience, and empathy is the greatest gift you can give your teen.