5 Steps to Responsibly Teaching Your Youth Lifelong Responsibility

Terrence Jakes
Mar 25, 2018 · 9 min read

One of the greatest lessons we can teach our youth is responsibility. I am a firm believer that in addition to responsibility, everything you teach your kids should be more about tomorrow than today.

What do I mean by this?

When a teacher shows children that 1+1=2, they are doing so much more than teaching them how to solve a simple math problem. What they are actually doing, is preparing them for tomorrow’s math lesson as well as the math lesson they are going to learn in middle school, high school and college.

Without these early lessons and building a strong mathematical foundation, when they get to those more difficult lessons in upper grades, they will be lost, confused and frustrated.

When’s Our Focus

Life lessons are the same. When we take the time to teach our kids something new, though it may seem like an in the moment thing to them, your thought process should be on a grander scale. Most of our interactions and lessons with our youth need to be future focused.

When we focus on their future, even without them knowing, they are focusing in on it as well.

Time to Walk Alone

At the beginning of the 2016–2017 school year I left my full-time job to focus on my freelance writing career. Though that’s a story on its own, it gave me an opportunity to be more available to my daughter and newborn son. The greatest part was being able to take my then 3rd grade daughter to school.

On our walks to school in the morning and home in the afternoon, we had great daddy-daughter time. We talked, we laughed, we sang songs. It was a great bonding time.

At one point not too long into the school year, though I loved the extra time we spent together, I decided that it was time to let go of her hand and let her walk by herself. There were other kids in the neighborhood who did this and I begun to say myself, why not my daughter? Although I’m sure there was some apprehension, my wife went along with the idea.

Time to Make a Choice

At that moment, I had to make a choice.

I could wake up the next morning and tell my daughter have a good day and see you after school, while closing the door behind her. Doing all of that while hoping for the best.

Or I could define a process to ensure her success today and for the future.

Yes, sometimes we have to let our youth learn lessons through their own experiences, but more times than not, we need to be deliberate in teaching them these essential life lessons.

The Process

But what does that process look like? Teaching responsibility that is less about the now and is instead future focused?

I took the process that I used for teaching my daughter to navigate back and forth to school, and have successfully applied it to other lessons of responsibility she needs to learn in life. Take a look below and utilize these steps in teaching your youth responsibility.

Before We Get to the Real Process

Okay this isn’t really a step in the process. This is more of a mindset change that many people need to have.

Don’t be afraid to start young. Don’t be afraid to start young. Don’t be afraid to…

I can’t say that enough. Kids are so much more capable at life then what many adults give them credit for.

When I told others we were allowing our daughter to walk by herself to school, some people were excited for her. I have to say though, I was surprised by the reactions of some others. They were completely against it. Some said it’s dangerous and others said it was too far for her little egs. The number one reason: She was too young.

Do You Know Your Youth?

More than anyone else, you have to know your youth and what they are capable of completing. Once you define it, hold on tight to your decision. Don’t let the negativity of others derail your confidence in them and allow doubt to creep in.

I am constantly amazed at what my children and others are able to accomplish at their young age. Those who are stuck in the mindset of “they aren’t ready yet,” will have to one day answer this question: When does “yet” turn into today? It’s time to let yet turn into today, today!

Challenge your youth, even at a young age, to do things others say they aren’t capable of. Not only will it build their confidence in the moment, it will create a lifestyle where they are willing to be independent thinkers. Just because someone else says it can’t be done, doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

Okay, back to the whole reason you are reading this article.

Below are the promised 5 steps to responsibly teaching your youth lifelong responsibility, through the steps I used in preparing my daughter to walk to school alone.

5 Steps to Responsibly Teaching Your Youth Lifelong Responsibility

1. I lead her. We walked side by side. Then I took a step back and let her lead me.

When teaching responsibility, especially for big tasks, you want to be intentional with every step of the process. This is why number 1 in this list is a 3-part list in itself.

1a) Lead by example. Whether you are teaching them how to clean the kitchen to your standards, take care of a sibling or pet, keeping their school work organized, or how to walk to school, its best to first show them how.

Working with children and understanding different learning styles, it’s not always enough to just give verbal instructions. Their best learning tool is watching you do exactly what you need them to do, while bringing them along for the ride.

1b) Next time, complete the task together. This is building up muscle memory. You hear muscle memory, but the mental side of repetition is just as important as the physical. Not only have they physically completed the task as they watched you do it with a little of their help, they have also a visual depiction of the task in their brains.

As they are more involved in the process of completing the task at hand, you will notice a quiet confidence (Well sometimes quiet. It depends on the personality of your youth) in themselves. One great thing may even happen, that may at first seem like a problem.

You may notice they take a little longer than you want for them to complete the task, but don’t be impatient or discouraged. They are only trying to do their best in being independent and figuring out the answer to their own question by replaying your example in their head. A sign of great progress!

1c) After you have completed the task together once, it’s time to let them lead the way. When you come together, be an intentional second in command. Let them tell you what needs to be done in order to say you have completed the task. They won’t tell you right then, but they will feel confident and empowered that you are trusting them to take control. It’s the exact mindset they will need to carryover when it is time to complete the task without you.

Each step in this three step process is designed to move you further and further away from the process so that eventually you will be out of arm’s reach. Only able to watch from a distance as they continue to move forward in life.

2. I asked her questions about street names and landmarks.

Ask them what’s the next step in the process and why each step is important to reaching the destination. While the focus on the start and finish are important, it’s just as important to have a focus on the details of the journey.

While you are working together and letting them lead, ask questions about what they are doing. Ask why they are doing what they are doing. The reason for these questions?

The details need to be appreciated when completing a task because reality dictates, you are not always going to finish what you started.

The overarching problem with this? Too many kids have been taught that lack of completion equals failure. Maybe that’s true when you are doing a math test, but that’s not always the case when it comes to life outside the classroom.

Often times, the lessons we learn during the process are of more importance than reaching the final destination. Like so much else in life, the appreciation of this fact is a learned behavior that can and should be taught at a young age.

Help redefine success by teaching your youth that it’s possible to keep their eyes on the prize while at the same time appreciating each step along the way.

3. I showed her multiple ways to get home.

Show multiple ways to accomplish the task. It’s not always about the easiest way or the quickest route. Sometime they are going to hit roadblocks that are out of their control. It’s your job to help them to be ready for the roadblocks ahead of time.

Having alternative routes means when things don’t go as planned, it won’t cause anxiety or a mental breakdown. (I’m not exaggerating here either. Their are grown people who have real trouble at life when things don’t go as planned).

Teaching them there alternatives, will help them to be comfortable adapting to the constant change that life has to offer.

4. If she went the wrong direction, I let her go for a while then brought her back on track.

In the beginning, especially with bigger tasks, there is a good chance they will fail. You know what, it’s okay. Failure doesn’t have to be inherently negative. Let them fail and then reestablish the course for them, showing where they messed up.

When they inevitably fail at something later in life, it will teach them to not be overly fearful or worrisome about the situation. You will be handing them a life skill of retracing their steps and confidently getting back on course.

One life stigma you will be preventing, is the label of a failure. Will Smith said this in a recent motivational video.

“Fail early. Fail often and fail forward.” — Will Smith

Failure is not something we should shy away from. It’s more beneficial to see it as a growth tool and not an end result. Be deliberate and teach your youth, failing is only the end of the story if they allow it to be.

5. I let go of her hand and let her walk alone.

The time will come, sooner than you may realize, where you have to let them do things completely on their own. That’s the whole reason you were teaching responsibility in the first place.

It’s not about teaching responsibility for the sake of giving them something to do. You should be teaching responsibility with the ultimate goal of grooming your inexperienced youth into independent adults.

Though a part of me would love for my daughter to rely on Daddy for the rest of her life, it’s more important to me that I prepare her to live a confident and independent existence. I think this mindset is important as we work with all the youth we encounter.

It’s All For the Future

If you are future focused in what we are teaching, then one day your hard work and intentionality will prove right. Case in point:

We recently moved and this meant my daughter had to learn a new route to school. I have to say, she surprised me.

The first time I drove her to school and back, without prompting, she was pointing out street names. I could hear her in the backseat speaking to herself about where the next turn was.

I really think I could have let her go by herself the next day, but to be sure I picked her up from school and we walked together. From there she knew exactly where to go and how to get there. The reason she was so dialed in this time around: I was future focused in teaching her a year before.

Whether you are a parent or a mentor in another capacity, we know that working with youth takes a lot of time and energy. Greater than most other people and activities we invest in, the reward of seeing them succeed makes it all worth it.


What are some memories you have of being taught responsibility, or another lesson, that still sticks with you to this day?

Call To Action

Are you ready, right now, to take on the challenge and be the leader your youth need? Great! Get started today by downloading your free e-book and discover the 5 winning principles of successful youth mentors. https://bit.ly/2GmDpuF.

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the education system

Terrence Jakes

Written by

A late-blooming creative ready to follow the call. http://theineffectivecreative.com/

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the education system

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade