My son, the quarterback of his football team, had a big game coming up and the coach wanted him and the entire team at practice one evening to go over some important plays. However, my son told my husband and I that he didn’t feel like going to practice. Nothing was wrong with him. He wasn’t injured or tired and he didn’t have homework, a project due, or a test to study for. He said he’d rather stay home and play video games. What do you think we did in that situation? Sure, we could have shrugged it off and let him stay home. He could have spent time on his PlayStation. Instead, we had a talk with him about the importance of dependability. We explained that as the leader of his team, his teammates and coach rely on him, so he needed to show up for practice.
It is important to teach your teen about dependability and the significance of being reliable. Not sure how? Here are some tips to start with.
Explain the importance of dependability
First, your child needs to understand the true meaning of dependability. Explain that being dependable means they are trustworthy. It means others can count on them. For example, let’s say your daughter tutors another student every Wednesday after school. That student has a big test coming up. Wednesday rolls around and your daughter wants to cancel the tutoring session to hang out with friends. This is your chance to let your daughter know that not showing up to the session just because she doesn’t feel like it is not fair to the student, especially since they have an important test coming up. That student is relying on her for help to pass the exam.
“To meet the demands of a modern world, our teenagers have to be more dependable,” says Ariane Thomas, Psy.D., J.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and the Associate Director for Professional Practice for Internship at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, Professional Counseling Program. “For our kids to be able to be successful in the world and this society that we’ve created, they have to be dependable. Adolescents need to know what the world is going to expect from them later and how to manage it. Being dependable doesn’t mean giving in and saying yes to everything. But it does mean being able to set up boundaries for yourself and sticking to them. It also includes being able to be as present, available, active, and engaged as you need to be.” Let your teen know that establishing a level of dependability now will ensure they grow up to be an upstanding adult. When they get older, their families, bosses, coworkers, and others will depend on them in one way or another. They need to be a person someone can believe in to get the job or task done. Wouldn’t they want the same in return from someone they were relying upon?
Discuss the consequences of being unreliable
Of course, there are going to be things your teen doesn’t want to do. Kids have jam-packed schedules these days, so your teen needs a break every now and then. But taking a break and ditching someone (or something) are two different things. You know when your child has been burning the candle at both ends, or is swamped with school work and in need of a break. You also know when they’re trying to get out of an activity or obligation just so they can hang out, or in my son’s case, play video games.
Tell your child that a person who lacks dependability or fails to keep their commitments is often seen as untrustworthy, frustrating, disappointing, and maybe even deceitful. Plus, no one likes dealing with an unreliable person. “Even teenagers have expectations of their peers, and if you’re not meeting those age-appropriate demands, or if you’re making plans to meet up and don’t show up, or flake out – even as adolescents – that’s disappointing and it throws off plans,” says Dr. Thomas.
She adds that teens develop opinions of their peers and once a person shows they’re unreliable, that can affect how they are viewed and whether they are respected. It even determines whether people want to interact or hang out with them. “Social engagement is core to adolescence. So if you are an adolescent and not dependable to your friends, that can affect the caliber of your friendships and the quality and the nature of the relationships you have. And at that age, relationships are everything.”
Tie in responsibility
A dependable person is also a responsible person. Let your teen know that and put situations in front of them where they can demonstrate responsibility. Give them certain chores, such as babysitting younger siblings, or even volunteering their time at certain organizations or events. That way, you can see the decisions they make and help guide them. “Dependability is broader than just being able to show up on time. It’s about teenagers being able to be entrusted with decision-making and showing that given the opportunity, they’ve been taught to exercise good judgment and can do so in a reasonable fashion and developmentally appropriate way,” says Thomas. “The only way people learn how to rise to different occasions and meet different demands is if we give them the opportunity to make good judgments and make mistakes. Dependability is something that’s built over time through making choices and mistakes and learning from those mistakes. The more opportunities we put in front of an adolescent, the more they can learn and develop their own style of dependability and their own ability to practice responsible engagement with their families and communities.”
Be the example
If you are flaking out on people or canceling plans or activities left and right, you can’t expect your child not to demonstrate the same behavior. It is important for parents to also show dependability, especially since our children are watching our every move and every interaction. Dr. Thomas agrees. “Parents should make sure they’re modeling dependability for young folks and modeling it not only in their work settings, but also at home where adolescents can see it.”
If you’re wondering, my son ended up going to practice that evening and learned some important plays that helped his team win the game the following Sunday. The win felt good for him and so did being there for his team.