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Responsibility and Your Tween

Our job as parents is to unceremoniously kick our baby birds out of the nest and force them to fly. Just kidding. If only it were that easy. While it is our duty to send them out in the big, wide world, it takes a day, or 6,574, to prepare them for the big day.

While the teen years are viewed as the time for independence, the groundwork for successful independence is laid in the tween years as your child moves into middle school. For us parents, it's a time to transition from our homework checking/grade tracking/assignment monitoring elementary school routine to a more hands-off approach by giving our adolescents the tools to monitor their responsibilities on their own.

Think of teaching responsibility the same way you would teach your child to ride a bike. It's a rare kid who can go from tricycle to bicycle without some training wheels in between. Responsibility works the same way. There are going to be some particularly hard knocks if you expect your child to go from hand-holding to "You're on your own!" in one great leap.

The following are what we like to call "The Training Wheels of Responsibility." These are tools your child can use to monitor their own tasks without you slipping into the role of “The Nag.” If you have to remind them to do their work, they are not really taking responsibility, but if you teach them how to remind themselves, they have a valuable skill for life.

Training Wheels for Responsibility

Ellen: In my house of girls, much time is spent in front of the bathroom mirror, so when they began middle school, that is where we posted our "Focus for Five" reminder sign. In other words, take five minutes to think about your day. A pad of sticky notes rested on the counter so my girls could jot down reminders as they thought of them to stick them on the mirror or place in their planners as needed.

Number six is essential to this "training wheel" program. It was and is their job to inform me of deadlines instead of the other way around. Having them report to me keeps things from (mostly) slipping through the cracks.

  1. What do I have to turn in today?
  2. What do I have to take today?
  3. What is going on today?
  4. What do I have to do today?
  5. What do I have to get today?
  6. What dates and deadlines do I need to share today?

Bonus: By giving the system a name, I only had to ask, "Did you focus for five?" at the breakfast table to make sure they did not forget their forgetfulness prevention tool.

Erin: I have five kids, so in my house, if everyone put sticky notes on the bathroom mirror, it would soon turn into a jumbled notice board. We took a more personalized approach: luggage tag-sized reminders on each of the backpacks. I printed out two by three inch lists, covered them with an adhesive laminating sheet, punched holes through the top, and attached them to the backpacks with key chains. We started this with my oldest son in second grade. He was a bit of a distract-a-bat, so I started the tags with things like "Do I have a pencil? My homework? My folder? Did I turn everything in? Did I give Mom papers to sign?"

Bonus: This is a system that easily grows with your kids. As we progressed through the years, we added things like "Did I remember my recorder? My gym bag? My cleats?" I just printed out a new list for the term if anything changed and made a new tag. Easy-peasy.

And now for your super-duper bonus: Did you notice that both of these techniques encourages your children to talk to you about their days? That is a great thing to instill as you approach the teen years.

By turning over their planners to them, you are empowering them with your trust and they are building confidence with their own feelings of accomplishment. This is going to serve them, and you, well when they are forced with tough choices such as lying, cheating, or drinking alcohol. Studies show confident kids are resilient kids who avoid risky behaviors.

Erin's oldest son is graduating from high school and Ellen's oldest is a junior. We are gratified to say that our children went from scattered disasters to assignment managing, grade tracking, college applying, deadline meeting (most of the time) young adults.

What "training wheels for responsibility" have you used in your home?

"Nag a child to complete an assignment and they get one good grade. Teach a child to monitor themselves and they get a successful life." -Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms

*The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility ( or any member.*

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