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Techniques to Develop Trust and Responsible Behaviors in Teens

Many teenagers who have trouble with trust and responsibility are similar to the "behavior kids"; in order to develop self-discipline and a responsible attitude, they must first develop the desired behavior (cleaning their room, doing their homework, coming home on time). In other words, the focus is more on behavior than on attitude. After the behavior is developed, hopefully an appropriate attitude will gradually be established. The following techniques help the child develop self-discipline, responsibility, and trust.

Define the Rule and the Consequence
You must tell the teenager what you expect, but more important than the rule is what will happen if she complies with your request and what will happen if she does not. Spell out rules and consequences at the same time. Put the responsibility onto the adolescent's shoulders. If good things happen to her, it is up to her. If bad things happen, it is also up to her.

The general techniques of setting rules and consequences are discussed in detail in another section. I would suggest that you review this information, because these rules are the primary techniques that are used to develop responsible behaviors.

When trying to develop responsibility in youngsters, many parents focus primarily on assigning chores (cutting grass, putting out the garbage, feeding the dog). This is fine, but it is not the main way that children develop responsible behavior. Chores usually involve consequences; that is, if a child does not put out the garbage, he does not get his allowance. The reason that chores are often used to develop responsibility is that predictable consequences usually follow the teenager's behavior. Therefore, when you are trying to develop responsibility or self-discipline in your child, you should spell out the rule and the consequence before the rule is broken. Then whatever happens to the teenager is a result of his behavior and no one else's. Responsible behavior can be encouraged throughout the day with this method.

Also, by spelling out consequences ahead of time, you avoid using random discipline and giving the teenager the impression that others are responsible for the consequence that has happened to him. This is extremely important to the adolescent, because with random discipline he feels unfairly treated. Most parents are careful and specific rule setters: "I want you home at 1:00 A.M., no later." However, many parents make the mistake of deciding the consequence after the teenager breaks the rule. Under these circumstances, the youngster is apt to feel unjustly treated. If an adolescent is dealt with primarily in this fashion, it is somewhat difficult for him to feel in control of what happens to him and to develop responsibility for his own behavior.

Tie All Consequences to the Child's Behavior
At first when trying to develop responsibility in some teenagers, it is best to tie as many consequences as possible to their behavior. In other words, you set up a situation where the adolescents will earn their rewards and pleasures, as well as their punishments and disappointments. Not only do you spell out disciplinary measures ahead of time, but you also try to relate all consequences to their behavior. Put them in control of the consequences of their actions - good or bad.

  • Tell the teenager who has been using the phone every night but doing nothing around the house that she now has to earn this privilege by performing some chore.
  • Set up a rule and a consequence for your son so that he no longer gets to use the car on weekends unless he shows you certain behaviors.
  • Inform your daughter, who used to get on the Internet just for breathing, that she now has to perform certain duties in order to have access to the computer.

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From Keys to Parenting Your Teenager by Don Fontenelle, Ph.D. Copyright 2000 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by arrangement with Barron's Educational Series, Inc.

Buy the book at Barron's.

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