How to Teach Preteens Respect and Responsibility

By Damon Verial
Avoiding embarrassment can be a great struggle as well as motivator in the preteen years.
Avoiding embarrassment can be a great struggle as well as motivator in the preteen years.

As children grow, so do their responsibilities and expectations. When they reach their preteens, kids typically begin to distance themselves from their parents -- and also show less respect. At the same time, parents put more responsibilities on their kids as a way of helping them approach adulthood. But this respect-responsibility paradigm can be a contradiction for preteens and parents: Teaching a preteen responsibility requires his respect. A parent can begin this journey by being the first to demonstrate respect.

Show a preteen respect to earn her respect. Take her words seriously, without demeaning her emotions and without judging her decisions. Preteens are naturally worried about what others think, especially the thoughts of their peers and adult role models. Allowing for open expression between you and your preteen can show her that you recognize that what she says is important. Such a demonstration indirectly teaches your preteen about respecting the thoughts and feelings of others, according to child behavior scholar Michael Riera in his book, “Uncommon Sense for Parents with Teenagers.”

Brainstorm solutions to problems. Engage your preteen in a cooperative discussion on an issue that requires responsibility or respect -- such as why he needs to have good study habits and complete all his homework assignments if he wants to do well in a school. Ensure that you allow him to have his say, as at this age, he’s no longer receptive to pure adult-to-child advice. Though in the past, perhaps you taught him the importance of responsibility and respect, as a child nears his teen years, he typically will ignore and disregard parental advice, notes James Lehman, M.S.W in an article on the Empowering Parents website. Preteens and teens often feel that parental advice does not apply to their worlds. Show him that your advice actually does apply. For example, explain to your preteen that if you want to succeed at anything, it takes effort and perseverance. Tell him that you want him to study and work on his homework each night before turning on the television. Provide him with a tutor if appropriate. Let him see that by putting in the required effort, his grades will improve.

Clarify boundaries. Be blunt about what actions are acceptable and confirm your preteen understands. Preteens that lack a sense of respect or responsibility often come from families that place few limits on their children, according to Cornell University website. When your preteen fails to live up to her responsibilities, emphasize the family rules, stating something like, “Our family rule is that we clean our rooms and pick up our things before we go out with friends. Cleaning your room is your responsibility; whether you choose to do so is up to you. But you cannot go to the movies with your friends until your room is clean.” Ask your preteen to paraphrase the rule to ensure that he understands. This can prevent future lapses followed by “I didn’t know.”

Show directness in addressing mistakes. Don’t let a disrespectful comment or act of irresponsibility slide past you. One of the great motivators of preteen actions is avoiding embarrassment, according to psychologist John Gottman in “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child." Because of this, they tend to place blame on others when they make a mistake or fail. Show them that such a habit is both irresponsible and disrespectful by addressing infractions. For example, when your preteen tells you that he didn’t do his chores because he thinks chores aren’t his job, directly address his statement before you reassign him his task. Say something like, “I feel disrespected when you don’t do what I ask of you. I trusted that you would complete your chores on time but I now feel like you don’t take your responsibilities seriously.” Again, because preteens fear embarrassment, avoid placing direct blame, but make it clear that you feel he is not currently living up to your standards.

About the Author

Having obtained a Master of Science in psychology in East Asia, Damon Verial has been applying his knowledge to related topics since 2010. Having written professionally since 2001, he has been featured in financial publications such as SafeHaven and the McMillian Portfolio. He also runs a financial newsletter at Stock Barometer.