Teaching middle schoolers to take responsibility: Here's what to know

Taking on more independence and responsibility is part of your adolescent’s growth.

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By Jamie Farnsworth Finn

Responsibility is being accountable for one’s actions. Taking on more independence and responsibility is part of your adolescent’s growth, and teaching the value of responsibility goes a long way in guiding her into a responsible adult. Responsibility is not just about how the choices your child makes affect her, but also how her choices and actions affect others. In order to learn to make responsible decisions, your teen needs to know what responsibility is and what your family holds her responsible for. This could range from household tasks like feeding the family pet and taking care of her room and belongings, to following through on schoolwork and extracurricular activities.

Talk about responsibility and accountability. Accountability is an important aspect of relationships, and one of the best ways to teach your adolescent about this is to talk about the role responsibility plays in your family. Director of Rutgers Social and Emotional Learning Lab Maurice Elias recommends asking your child, “How am I going to know that you followed through?” This is a good way to talk about accountability, and it gives your child a way to show you that she is responsible. At dinner time, try to have a natural conversation about responsibilities that each member of your family has had to fulfill recently and why it was important for them to do so. Be sure to point out that people who are responsible behave in ways that make others trust them, and they take ownership of their actions. They don’t make excuses for bad behavior or blame others when something goes wrong. Tell your child that it is good to take responsibility for her actions and that by shifting the blame or playing the victim she is only contributing to the problem.

Have your adolescent get a small job or spend some time volunteering. For example, she could get a job helping a neighbor with a small yard project, tutoring a younger child, or babysitting. Not only will your child take on more responsibility, but she’ll also earn some money, which can teach her about managing finances. Volunteering also provides your child with responsibility without financial incentives, which can be a good learning experience. Service is a great way for your child to expand many social and emotional abilities, including responsibility, empathy, kindness, and relationship skills.

Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Maurice Elias, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab; Jennifer Miller, Author, Confident Parents, Confident Kids; and Michele Borba, Author and Educational Psychologist.