Help a Reader Out: Teaching Independence

Thanks for all the help this week! Here’s one more to finish off the week. This is from my post It’s Easier to Do It for Them. Please reply with your thoughts and any resources you can recommend for this parent.

What do you advise for parents who have done everything (and I mean everything) to avoid conflict, and now they have teenagers who simply refuse to pick up after themselves, wake themselves in the morning, do their homework, wash a dish, etc…they throw anything they’re done with on the floor and walk away. They don’t know how to make a bed or run a load of laundry, and see no need to ever learn. They don’t want to go to college because that looks like work. They want to stay home and play video games and be waited on. Now what. IS IT TOO LATE. What have we done.

I do think it’s important to work on these things when our kids are young, for this very reason, but I don’t think it’s too late. I don’t have a teenager, so take my advice with a grain of salt. Maybe those of you with teenagers will have better advice. But my initial thoughts are that it’s not too late because the teen is still living under your roof. It’s hard not to have sympathy for the teen since he’s simply living up to his parents’ expectations. But it sounds like things need to change.

The problem started because it’s easier to wait on our children than it is to require them to do for themselves. So I’m thinking the answer is to stop taking the easy approach. Stop making life so easy for him.

First, if I were this mom, I would sit down with my husband and make sure he agrees that things need to change. Then we would work together on a plan. Define all the individual tasks you want him to learn and own, and prioritize them so you can work on one at a time. Then sit down with the teen and explain the new rules and the consequences associated with those rules. Perhaps it would be appropriate to involve him in the process so he feels like he’s a part of the solution. I would also give it some time to see if he finds the motivation himself. Assume that he wants to change. If not, then start thinking about logical consequences.

Personally, I would start with video games. I don’t know of any motivated, successful person who spends any significant amount of time on video games. Plus, they can cause so many problems. It’s easy to lose all self-control while playing, which could easily get in the way of school, sleep, exercise, healthy eating, etc. I would simply take the video games away. Be prepared for the child’s wrath because video games are addictive, and it will take some time to be okay without them.

Then think through any other privileges the child has. If he’s of driving age, does he have a car? Do you allow him to use your car? Does he have free access to a computer. (I would allow it for homework only, and only in the main area of the house.)

Don’t simply take these privileges away. Tell him that he can earn them back by showing he’s responsible enough to have them. He can show responsibility by picking up after himself, doing his laundry, helping out around the house, etc. I’m guessing it will take some time for him to come around, which I think is fine. He will decide whether he wants these privileges back.

In the meantime, make sure not to do much for him. If you don’t want his messes in your space, I would toss his stuff into his room. Stop waking him up. Stop urging him to do his homework. (Maybe communicate with teachers so they know what to expect and so you know what their consequences will be.) Stop doing his laundry. My guess is he’ll eventually decide that he’s tired of wearing dirty clothes.

Now, the problem with this approach is that it could alienate the teen and really drive a wedge in the parent/child relationship. I imagine that the teen would be very upset with these new rules. And since the parents are driving the change, he will aim his anger at them. Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer to this. It’s possible that my “tough love” approach wouldn’t work because of this. Or perhaps it would work, but it wouldn’t be worth the loss of the relationship.

Does anybody have experience with this? What’s the answer?!



  1. Maureen, I think if parents find themselves in the above situation, it would be key to ask honest questions about what went wrong in the parenting side of the equation and do some honest apologizing/restoring with the teen.

    I think a sudden change in the “rules of the game” can be significant, and the parents should consider what they can do to start restoring the relationship to a health status. Teens, in many ways, are like adults (or, at least should be). So, if I was that parent, I would start by asking the teen to forgive me for not being a better parent, and ask him for understanding in that I/we (parents) will be trying to do better.

    Depending on the age of the teen, the parenting dynamic may be at a “coaching/guiding” stage, and simply “imposing” hard rules out of the blue can push the child away and further widen the gap in the relationship.

    As you mentioned, if the teen is still under my roof, it’s still my rules. But, because the teen is older, some wisdom and discerning may be required in how those new rules are communicated, and some honesty and humility about the lack of those rules in the past may be in order. This can help build fresh dose of trust, and inspire the teen to start thinking of himself/herself as an adult as he/she struggles with having to submit to rules, and develop new healthy habits and character traits.

    To be honest, it did not click in my brain that I was an adult until past 20. When it did, it had a huge impact in my self-motivation. My parents did a GREAT job in discipline and training, but this perhaps points to an opportunity to other parents. The sooner we can get our teens to “click” that they are adults, perhaps the sooner they can find fresh dose of self-motivation.

  2. I like both of the above advice. I think I would tend to be more on the tough love side myself, but can understand how that could backfire.
    I think it would depend, for me, greatly on the age of the teen and the current relationship with the parents (whether it was open, hostile, loving, etc) how I would exactly proceed but I would definitely sit down and talk with my husband and get on the same page about everything, even writing things out. Then I would definitely sit down with my teen and apologize for the ways that we had taught them incorrectly and tell that we were going to start teaching them the way we believed was right. I would make sure they understood that it could be a really easy transition for both of us if they cooperated with the new standards, they could also keep most of their old privileges! But if they weren’t responsible then it would be alot more difficult. And then I would do just about what Maureen suggested, with taking away their privileges (especially video games, computer, tv, limiting phone use) and setting up new responsibilities and telling them they could earn TIME on the privileges (not unlimited time!). I would probably make a schedule too that they could choose to follow or not, but that would help guide them in how their day should look in order to accomplish their new responsibilities and also have time for privileges! Sometimes kids have a hard time understanding any concept of time and think that with a bunch of responsibilities that they would have no time for pleasure, and do not know how to manage their time, especially if they’ve never been taught how to!

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