Teens have many more capabilities than younger kids. They can:
- Cook meals on their own.
- Pick siblings up from school and activities or run errands for parents.
- Shop for the household.
They, like their younger siblings, will build positive self-esteem the more they can do and the more they are trusted. And, they, too, will push back on many responsibilities – they also know that they have their own personal lives with their friends; it’s much more fun to hang out with them than babysit or make dinner.
Yet parents can reward them with increased freedom. In my own clinical work, often to the eye rolls of teenagers, I say that there was a philosopher named John Stuart Mill who said (eye roll begins), “Increased responsibility brings increased freedom.” In other words, if you do what you are supposed to do, such as household chores, going to school, and working hard, you should get more freedom. These rewards can include a later curfew, more money to spend on things you want, and fewer restrictions on bedtime or screen time.
One final comment: Kids feel special when they are given a unique age-appropriate chores as responsibility for a special occasion, such as a birthday, wedding, or holiday. And at times of great sadness, such as the loss of a pet, or serious illness in the family, they will feel special by helping in a time of hardship.
What Parents Can Do To Promote Kids Helping Themselves: Allowing Time For Social-Emotional Learning
There is a critical balance between giving a child chores as responsibilities at home, in school, and in the community, and allowing them time to be a kid.
Children do feel special when they assume responsibilities. However, they also require time to play, learn social skills, pursue hobbies and interests on their own, and enjoy themselves when they are alone.
It turns out that giving them the time to just be a kid, is, in fact, giving them enormous responsibility in learning the skills required of healthy, resilient adults.
Of course, playing, socially interacting, and engaging in hobbies will vary from child to child and from one developmental level to another. But kids of all ages need time to develop knowledge, attitudes, and skills that go beyond responsibilities at home, in school, and in the community.
Being able to play, interact with others, and follow one’s passions fosters the development of personal identity and the belief that they can be competent individuals with their own unique attributes. The capability of learning who I am, what I like to do, and how I like to do it requires interacting with peers in a variety of settings and achieving personal goals – in the arts, sports, writing, playing video games. In short, this process helps them learn to be responsible for themselves socially, emotionally, and recreationally.
Social-emotional learning is key for helping them become responsible moral agents in society. Time alone and with peers is critical for learning the skills of leadership, inclusion, acceptance of others, self-awareness, conflict resolution, and taking responsibility for their actions, including making apologies when they make mistakes, break a rule, or hurt someone’s feelings.
Enjoying themselves when alone and using that time to relax or to learn new skills, such as practicing an instrument, writing, or absorbing a good book are skills that are learned and not innate.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
All of this sounds good, but you know that putting these suggestions into action will not be easy. When kids hear us say, “I know you may not like or understand this, but it’s really going to help you in the long run,” once again, we get the eye roll.
But though there will inevitably be resistance if not outright opposition, it’s the right thing to do, and an effort worth starting when kids are very young.
This article originally appeared on and was written by the author (Dr. Gene Beresin) for the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds. Republished with permission.