Parenting Resources

Encouraging High School Age Children to Take Initiative

As children mature and become aware of how they “fit” into the family structure, they will often begin to do things (like pick up their dishes) without being asked. While this might be self-serving because it enables them to move on to other activities, it also shows they are aware of what needs to be done.

Reinforcing their help with something as simple as a thank you is important.

For example, leave a list on the refrigerator of needed items, then allow older teens to do the shopping. Praise—even reward them when they compare prices and save the family money.

Entrenched habits and the desire for independence strongly impacts behaviors at this age, so teens still need to learn there are consequences for their actions – or inaction.

  • Link increasing privileges with increasing demonstration of responsibility and initiative.
    • In many families, both parents work. Teach your child to help with every day activities like setting the table, getting the mail, making meals, cleaning up the kitchen, taking out the garbage, cleaning the bathroom.

When they begin to take the initiative to do this without prodding, applaud that as mature behavior – and consider allowing additional privileges. 

    • Be careful not to step in and do the task that was assigned to your teenager. In other words, do not reward inappropriate behavior
      • If the table isn’t set, no one eats dinner until the teen has set it. 
      • If your teenager is supposed to mow the lawn and hasn’t done so, you are unfortunately unavailable to take him to the movies with her friends.
  • Encourage your teen to take the initiative and problem solve when appropriate.
    • This may involve allowing your teen to experience failure. If failure occurs, be supportive and encouraging. “What else might work?” “What other options do you have?”
  • Most teenagers want to use the car. so e
  • stablish rules in advanceand enforce them. Rules can include bringing it back with gas, and washing it on the weekend. 
    • If they continue to do this without being asked or told, praise their behavior as mature, responsible and possibly extend their time out with the car by 30 minutes.
    • Problem solve what to do in case of an accident, emergency or car engine difficulties.
  • Most importantly, keep your family environment supportive. Teens are undergoing developmental changes that are affecting their entire physiology including their emotions and physical appearances. They will make mistakes but they will learn to do better by having parents who are supportive and who love them unconditionally.