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“Dad, can you take me to the game?  I need to be there in ten minutes.”

“Mom, can you drop me off at Maddie’s across town at 5pm and pick me up at 7:30?”

“I need a ride to the store to grab a poster board for my project due tomorrow.”


School assignments, social gatherings, sports, and after school activities all seem to be more abundant as your teen gets older.  With the number of places your teen needs to be and fewer teens acquiring their first license under age eighteen, how are students getting to and from their extracurricular events? That responsibility has fallen squarely in the laps of moms and dads.  

If constantly serving as a taxi isn’t appealing, you have an opportunity to transition the responsibility of getting to and from events to your teen. With each new task you give to your budding adult, you want to make sure they hear your heart and know the why behind this decision. It is important to make it clear that they are not an inconvenience to you. However, in their current way of thinking, they are relying on you to take them to and fro on a whim with little to no planning. This is not how life works. If they want you to take them somewhere, they need to ask respectfully, offer a way to clarify (note on the counter, family online calendar or app, weekly printed calendar on the fridge), and have a plan to get a ride in the other direction so you only have to do one trip. When you help them understand that until they have purchased their own car, they will have plenty of chances to work out their own transportation and you are just helping them get ahead of the curve by starting now.  

After you have explained the “why,” it is necessary to help them talk through the “how.” Amazingly, this is not obvious to all teens. Because they have always been driven to and from everything, they think that is just the way it is. Asking them to come up with ways they could get to a friend’s house and how they would work out each is a good indicator of their thinking. Some kids will mention walking or riding a bike. Some may think of the city bus, Uber or Lyft, or getting a ride with a friend. All of these are viable options, and helping your teen work through some scenarios based on the places they go most often will open their eyes to the possibilities. What if instead of coming home from school for fifteen minutes to grab their practice equipment, they took it to school and got a ride home with the student who lives within walking distance to the practice field? Instead of you driving them to the arena for a big concert (which will take you twice as long as normal based on the traffic) they arranged a meeting spot for everyone to get dropped off at a public transportation stop and they took the bus or train together to the event? When we put the responsibility on them to figure it out, they realize a little inconvenience on their part can save tons of time for others driving and can possibly be fun.  


It is important to go over family rules and guidelines about who they are and are not allowed to ride with. If your state has a graduated license program, be familiar with it, and let your teen know what the law is and how they are held accountable. They can only ride with a friend if that friend has the legal ability to drive other teens. This is a good time to cover drinking and driving and to offer that if your teen is ever in a situation where they need a ride to avoid riding with someone who is under the influence, you would willingly come pick them up with no further consequences.  This can be a life-saving conversation.  

Teaching your teen to work out their own transportation is a life skill that will serve them well. If our goal is to work ourselves out of a job, this is just one of many steps in that process. Each responsibility we shift from our plate to theirs brings them one step closer to becoming a well-functioning adult. 

Curfew: 10:00 pm on weeknights. 11 pm on weekends.

No video games except from 8-9 pm.

Homework time is from 3-5 daily.

No Social Media until you are 17.

Rules. Rules. Rules.

How many kids do you know who love rules?

I haven’t met very many kids who like rules. But we all need boundaries for our behavior. As we work toward raising kids ready for real life, how can we switch the paradigm from a list of rules to a set of equations where their input and choices influence their outcomes?

When you remember our own childhood, you probably think of playing on the neighborhood playground after school, coming up with games or playing sports with a modified set of rules. Today’s children spend more time in structured than unstructured activities. Instead of drawing boundaries for a field with sticks and working out the details of what constitutes a home run or a goal, they play on chalked off fields with coaches instructing them. Instead of using Legos to come up with their version of a house or helicopter, many “engineers” follow the intricate instruction booklets included with every new boxed set. Instead of creating a town for Barbies or stuffed animals, television and video games fill the after school hours for many children.

We need to give kids room to create their own rules.

Darell Hammond, who lived in a group home as a youngster, founded the non-profit KaBoom to encourage communities to improve the lives of children. He urges kids to “get off the soccer field and onto the playground. Children need to get out of the gym and into neighborhood stickball games. We need to give kids room to create their own rules, set their own terms, and move their bodies in their own ways.” When kids are empowered to make their own rules, they learn executive function skills and are more likely to follow them because they believe them to be more reasonable than imposed rules.

What would it look like if we switched from making rules to helping our children follow equations?

How do we maintain order in our homes and yet allow our children to participate in making and maintaining the boundaries? Tim Elmore of Leading the Next Generation give some suggestions.

One thought is, take an age-old parent/teen dispute. Perhaps instead of having a curfew for teenagers, we could have some parameters around what time they come home. For example: before you leave, we want to know where you will be, who you will be with, and an approximate time you will be home. If you find you will be more than half an hour late, text us to let us know. As long as you are reasonable with these guidelines, you don’t need to have a set curfew time. Seems a bit scary as a parent to not know exactly when your son or daughter will be home, but if we want them to be able to navigate managing their own time in the future, this is a good step.

Another thought is what to do about video games or social media time? That’s another doozy. As a parent, it is much easier on us to have rules around these issues so we can try to manage them. However, learning how to manage oneself online is going to be a vital skill for everyone in this generation. It is prudent to allow tweens and teens to manage themselves while they are still at home and have parents to guide them. Because we each currently have various gaming and screen time rules, an equation for these will look different for each family. Things to consider might be: having a list of responsibilities to be completed before screen time is allowed, letting your older kids determine how much screen time they think is reasonable, and then asking them how they will manage sticking to their limit. With younger children you might have an equation that allows a one-to-one or one-to-one-half ratio for earning screen time. If they read/play outside/do chores for an hour, then they earn commensurate screen time to use at their discretion.

When kids are involved, there is more compliance.

If we change the paradigm from setting rules in an attempt to control our child’s behavior to discussing boundaries and equations for achieving a mutually agreeable goal, we may find we have fewer arguments. When kids are involved in making the equations, you set them up to develop executive function both in negotiating the parameters and in learning how to manage themselves within their new freedoms.

Rachel Macy Stafford is a New York Times bestselling author of “Hands Free Mama” and “Hands Free Life.” Her attempts to let go of what doesn’t matter began when her daughters were young and she realized she was missing so much of their lives because she was distracted by email, the phone and outside commitments. She started her journey to become “Hands Free” with ten minutes a day of attempting to stay present and connected. She found that over time her desire for this time increased and her connection to her daughters did as well. 

It used to be that parents were the only ones distracted by the ping of emails, texts, and phone calls. Now that so many kids seem to have smart phones, they too are distracted by the constant “urgent” pull of notifications, SnapChat streaks, and Instagram updates. The more and more electronically “connected” we are to others in cyberspace, the less connected we can become to those in our physical realm. A recent study correlated the rise in depression to the rise in teen social media consumption. The Child-Mind institute says, “Some experts see the rise in depression as evidence that the connections social media users form electronically are less emotionally satisfying, leaving them feeling socially isolated.”

Rachel offers some great suggestions for parents to make sure they are available for connection with their children. One of the key first steps is to create some daily “hands free” time. Are there times you can agree on as a family to not use (or even have available) electronic devices?

Some of the most crucial times for face-to-face connection are:

Stafford recommends putting boundaries around these times and holding that space for genuine connection with those in your presence as opposed to those in your digital world. If we lead by example, our children can follow. We can guide them toward a more genuine connection with others and allow them to exercise their communication muscles in a positive way. 

You may wonder what difference ten minutes can make. It is so easy to brush off a few minutes at a time. But the problem arises when you are busy checking the news while sipping your morning coffee and your daughter walks in to make her breakfast. She doesn’t want to interrupt, so she decides to check her Instagram feed. When you realize you could talk to her for a few minutes before she takes off for school, you look up from the computer to find her nose buried in Instagram. And round and round we go.  So we have to start somewhere. Even if you only make the kitchen a digital free zone, you may find yourself with ample opportunity to catch up with your uber-busy children. The laughter and stories at the dinner table and perhaps even the breakfast table can return. We can be “those parents,” you know, the ones whose kids know they care and desire a relationship with them? Yes. Those parents. It starts with ten minutes a day. 

Most families feel squeezed by work, school, planned activities, sports practice, and home upkeep. We don’t need fancy research to tell us that getting away from all the hustle and bustle for a few hours is refreshing to the mind, body, and soul. But studies do show nature has many benefits like decreased stress, increased mental energy and creativity, and overall, improved mental health. You may wonder how to fit one more thing in your family’s full schedule. However, if you are prepared, even a couple of hours that might have been spent binge watching a show or cleaning out a closet can turn into a family adventure.

Nature has healing properties. Leaving the stress of work, homework, and a dishwasher that constantly wants to be loaded, frees your brain to relax.  Make time and soak up some fresh air. Taking into account the ages and preferences of your family members, make a short list of places you could go to get outside and enjoy creation. If you have toddlers and preschoolers, where is the closest walking trail with a paved path, shade, and perhaps a water feature? Elementary kids, how about a place you can safely bike and end up at a large playground or ball field? Middle and high schoolers might be attracted to a more strenuous hike that could wind you around to a fun outdoor eatery. 

I don’t know about your family, but in ours, often the most difficult part of the journey is the first step. Getting out the door with all the people and all the equipment seems to take forever. I remember having toddlers and thinking that no one would ever be able to put on their own shoes. Now with teenagers, I often wonder if everyone can just find their shoes! At a family dinner, come up with a plan for where your next family adventure will take place. Decide how long you need to make it happen and what you need to take with you. Will you be riding bikes or scooters and need helmets and the bike rack? Will you stay for a meal and need a picnic blanket, snacks, and a cooler? Most adventures would do well to have a hat, water bottle, and sunscreen for all participants. Can you make a list or have these things in a bag at the ready?

To schedule or not to schedule? That is the question. Again, you know your family best. If you have young ones, just look for an empty spot on the calendar and block it off for “Nature Time.” If your kids make their own plans, you may have to request an uninterrupted time a few weeks out. Mark the time off with their approval, then you can send them text reminders. If it would be more fun, invite some friends to join you. Of course you can just enjoy the outdoors, but if you have family members who want to know the purpose of the trip or who are easily bored, you have options. Planning a scavenger hunt (photos of items work just as well as collecting the items) can be a great way to engage everyone and encourage sibling camaraderie. If you decide to bring phones along, you can have a photography contest of the most interesting find. If your children are younger, come up with a game you can play on your walk or ride. Finding something they see for each letter of the alphabet  is a fun way to help them notice what is around them. You can also do a colors-of-the-rainbow contest to see how many different colors people can notice or photograph. As long as you are breathing in fresh air and enjoying your time together, you have accomplished much. 


If you love winning, raise your hand. (Is your hand raised? I’m guessing so.) 

If you love losing, raise your hand. (Sitting comfortably with your hands in your lap?) 

Let’s ask a different question. When you think about the most valuable lessons you have learned in your lifetime, did more of them come from a success or a failure? 

Here is where we often base our parenting decisions on emotion rather than statistical evidence. According to Jessica Lahey, author of The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, our desire to keep our children from experiencing pain overrides even our own life experiences about learning from failure. As she keenly points out, “Out of love and desire to protect our children’s self-esteem, we have bulldozed every uncomfortable bump and obstacle out of the way, clearing the manicured path we hoped would lead to success and happiness. 

Unfortunately, in doing so we have deprived our children of the most important lessons of childhood. The setbacks, mistakes, miscalculations, and failures we have shoved out of our children’s way are the very experiences that teach them how to be resourceful, persistent, innovative and resilient citizens of this world.” 

Jessica implores us as parents to evaluate our actions and reactions to our children’s failures in light of what we rob them of when we rescue them. Think back to your own childhood … I’ll bet you have a story similar to mine. In fourth grade our class went to the library to check out biographies. I don’t remember why, but I chose George Washington Carver. I loved to read and eagerly started on my book as soon as I got home. However, unlike the Beverly Cleary books of my lazy afternoons, old George wasn’t really so interesting. My interest quickly waned and I forgot about the looming book report deadline. When the day came, I just didn’t turn anything in. When the teacher handed back everyone’s reports a few days later, I received a form with my name, the assignment, and a big “F” circled in red pen. Having never received an “F” before, I wasn’t really worried until I realized the form had a line for “parent signature” underneath. Begrudgingly, I took the form home and had to explain to my mother (a life-long teacher herself) that I failed for not turning in a report. 

If this were a modern sitcom, you could hear the parental yelling in the next room. But my mom calmly explained to me she would sign the form, but only after I read the book and wrote the report. She really didn’t make a big deal about it because she firmly believed that my school was my responsibility. She had not failed, I had failed. She was not a bad parent, nor was I a bad student. I made a choice that led to a consequence and now I had to pay the piper. So I dutifully read the book, wrote the report, and turned it in. Guess what? My grade didn’t change. I still had an “F.” But I learned a valuable lesson. I did not like the feeling of earning a bad grade. Notice I said “earning,” not “receiving;” the teacher did not give me an “F” like a gift. I had not done the work when it was due; therefore, I earned the “F.”. 

Throughout the rest of my schooling, I worked hard to earn my good grades. I knew I never wanted to feel that pit in my stomach again from not giving my best. We would never want to rob our children of the joy of winning the state basketball tournament after a season of hard work. How can we view their opportunity to experience the agony of defeat in the same way? When you wonder how to help facilitate long-term change in your child’s behavior, consider the value of letting them experience the natural consequences of their own choices. 

Failure is a valuable teacher. Give your child the opportunity to learn, don’t rob them of the chance to learn from their own mistakes. As Henry Ford said, “Even a mistake may turn out to be the one thing necessary to a worthwhile achievement.”

The school year. The excitement of new notebooks and new pens and colored pencils. The fun of seeing friends after the summer and settling back into a routine. The thrill for parents of micromanaging the details of their child’s homework, sports schedules, play practices, and club meetings. What, you don’t love micromanaging all of this? Where is your helicopter? If the anticipation of the school year keeps you awake at night, we have some ideas for you. What if this year you transition your student to owning his or her homework, grades, and activities? “Seriously?” you ask. “Let Mark remember to bring his practice uniform on soccer days and bring it home to be washed? He might scare off all the ladies with his three day sweat-infused socks. Count on Michaela to pack her backpack the night before so she is on time to homeroom? Without reminding her? Are you kidding?” No. Not kidding. Depending on the age of your son or daughter, it is very likely that you are clinging to some responsibilities that would be better transitioned over to them.

Let’s think about what it looks like to step back so your child steps forward. What is one school responsibility you have been holding onto that your son or daughter could totally manage? Consider these and other possibilities:

Remember, it is not about knowing they can successfully manage their school responsibilities today. It’s about giving them the opportunities to grow into successfully managing them. There will probably be some mistakes and maybe (if needed) some coaching along the way—but that’s part of learning how to step forward on their own with confidence.

As a foster parent, psychotherapist, and expert in family and teen therapy, Amy Morin—author of 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do—has witnessed first-hand what works: “When children have the skills they need to deal with challenges in their everyday lives, they can flourish socially, emotionally, behaviorally, and academically. With appropriate support, encouragement, and guidance from adults, kids grow stronger and become better.”

Talk with your kids about what they think they can manage themselves. Ask them how they will transition to own this skill. What do they want from you and what can you count on them for? Do they (or you) need a check-off list or chart? If so, ask them to make it. Do they need a reminder? What would a good reminder be (sticky note on the door or mirror, alarm on their phone or automated reminder on the phone, note on the fridge)? Have them set it up and take ownership of it.

Try your best not to nag, remind, helicopter, over-check, or do any of these things while pretending not to. This is letting them learn. Giving them the chance to succeed or fail or fall somewhere in between. It is ok. The stakes are small. This does not go on your permanent record (and even if it does, it is better to have a ding on a school record than to start one with the police). If you set a reasonable timeframe for them to manage this skill, you can have a check-in conversation at the end. If they make a mistake in the middle, refrain from correcting. It’s fine to ask if they need any help, but unless they say “yes,” back away and continue to let them work toward owning this. If they blow it, give them a Mulligan. This is the crux of leading your child on the path toward responsible, unentitled adulthood. They have to try hard things and feel the full brunt of their decisions and actions. They have to feel the feeling of achievement when they succeed without any parental involvement. This is the “high” we want them to feel. This is what we want them to seek more of. You will be amazed when they get going on this and start to take on more and more responsibility without your help in the process.

The rewards for this are monumental. They feel proud of their maturity. You feel proud of their accomplishment. This builds trust and mutual respect for your ongoing relationship. They feel empowered to move on to bigger and better things. You can enjoy the break from feeling responsible for everything. The goal becomes finding new things to move from your plate to theirs. The helicopter has landed.

My bologna has a first name, it’s O-S-C-A-R.  

My bologna has a second name, it’s M-A-Y-E-R.  

Gone are the days of simple bologna on white bread, a Hostess® cupcake and a bag of Fritos®. Rarely do you see paper lunch bags that have been tossed after trading sandwiches with a classmate. Many of today’s school lunches can seem more like a Top Chef contest with parents packing bento boxes and preparing tiny versions of Pinterest-worthy gourmet items. If you could see the lunchroom trash can, you would likely think twice about all this effort. You might also realize that if you have a goal of training your son or daughter to become a well-functioning adult, he will clearly benefit from making his own lunch starting right now. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests on their website,, “Do Less. Parents need to stop doing things for their teens, like making lunch or running an “emergency” load of wash, that teens can do for themselves.”

Many parents view the process of making school lunches as a kindness offered to their teens and tweens, who spend most of their waking hours either at school, studying, or at an extracurricular activity. However, if we are serious about developing responsibility and gratefulness in the hearts of our students, one way to guide them down that path is to allow them to make their own lunch. Seems like a simple thing, and it is. But many parents started making lunches when their child started kindergarten, and they just haven’t found the right time to stop, despite the fact that their “child” is now a sophomore. There is nothing wrong with making lunch to save your kids time. But if you do it all the time, they miss the opportunity to gain responsibility, as well as the chance to feel genuinely grateful when something is done for them unexpectedly.

If you want to transition this skill to your tween or teen, simply follow these easy steps. First, have a conversation explaining that you are not quitting as a parent. You are, in fact, stepping up your parent game by adding an important skill to your student’s adulting capabilities. Then let her know that you will either buy items she requests for lunch when you go to the store (give her a day and a way to communicate—text message, list on the fridge) or you will give her money to purchase the items she would like each week. Then ask her if she needs any help with ideas or recipes.

The rest is simple. Don’t make their lunch. Hunger is a powerful motivator. They will figure this one out.

One of the great benefits I have found in following this method is that when your teen oversleeps or has a big project due, he is truly grateful when you step in and make his lunch to save time. When you are no longer the “Lunch Lady,” it gives him a chance to see you in a new light and to appreciate how much you do for him. And after his own attempts to make a meal, dinner might suddenly taste all the better as well.  


 “Mom, have you seen my jeans with the holes in them?”

“Hey Mom, is my soccer uniform clean?”

“Dad, when you are shopping, can you pick up some more socks for me? I’m running out.”

Back in the throes of potty training, most parents heard friends with older children say, “No one goes to college in diapers.” However, there are many students who leave for college without ever having run the washing machine. According to a study by Mulberry Garment Care, 48.6% of males and 32.4% of females have never done laundry until after their eighteenth birthday. Tell your teens since they want to be above average, you are going to teach them to do their own laundry. This is a chore each person in the family can do on their own, even starting at age nine or ten. With a family of seven, my life became exponentially simpler when I stopped worrying about doing full loads of laundry containing everyone’s clothes and let each person wash their own. With high efficiency washers, we no longer have to worry about wasting water doing this either.

Teaching teens how to do their own laundry will prove worthwhile both now and in the future. It just takes a few simple steps.  

First, when implementing any new idea, it is helpful to have a “why” discussion, pointing out the reasons you are transitioning this task from your plate to your teen’s.  You might mention they know best when they need items like sports uniforms or special apparel for work or school. Therefore, they can plan to have their clothes washed, dried, and ready to go better than you can.  They should know that you have always wanted them to be above average, and that learning this skill puts them in category for kids graduating high school. You might also remind them that your job is to teach them what they need to know to be a successful adult, and this is one important “adulting” step in that direction that they can learn and practice ahead of time. The other two steps are simple.  

Ask them to gather their laundry (I said simple, not easy) and meet you by the washer. Show them how to sort, read labels, and run the machine. The cardinal rule of laundry in our house is “towels by themselves.” This eliminates the dreaded lint ball problem. Point out any dark colored cotton items that might bleed, and mention a word or two about how mixing those with light-colored clothes can turn all their favorite T-shirts or underwear pink. It might be enough to keep them from washing lights and darks together. Then step aside and let them have at it.  

Resist the urge to take this responsibility back. You will be tempted to gather their clothes off the floor or grab their overflowing laundry basket and throw a load in while they are at school. This is counter-productive if your goals for them include independence and maturity. Close their door if you need to, but let them manage this on their own. You (and their future spouse) will be glad you did.


How many times have you found yourself late for an important event because your teen wasn’t ready to leave? Does your teen typically show up a few minutes (or more) late to appointments or activities? How do we stop ourselves from trying to wrestle our kids into the car, and get them to take responsibility for their own timeliness?   

In working on a plan to transition accountability to our students, managing their time is an important one for us to let go. According to the Harvard University Center on the Developing Child, “Self-regulation is necessary in any goal- directed activity. Identifying goals, planning, monitoring progress, and adjusting behavior are important skills to practice.”

Often we don’t realize our own habits are contributing to the things our teens do that frustrate us. The 10-minute warning you may have used during the toddler years and found effective even through elementary school now may be causing your teen to rely on you as the alarm for her schedule. When they plan to go to a movie with their friends, do they have the skills to figure out how to get there before the movie starts? If so, they can get anywhere on time—if they want to. When we are constantly reminding and prodding, our teens assume that the responsibility of being on time is ours, not theirs.  

So the simple answer of how to give the responsibility of time management to our teens is to just stop reminding them. But what if this causes them to be late for something crucial? To be fair to them, we have to have a process to take this off our plate and place it on theirs.  

Following these three steps and being patient is all you need to make this work.  

First, have a conversation about why being on time is important and why it is important for him to learn to be on time. Inform him that you will no longer be reminding him.  

Second, talk with her about what system she can create to determine what time she will need to leave,     how much time she’ll need to get ready, and how to remind herself about her own timeline. If you are concerned about an event that has significant consequences for tardiness, then start with events that don’t have major pitfalls, like a movie or a friend’s party. Help your teen come up with the time she wants to be at the event, the transportation time to get there, how much time she’ll need to get ready beforehand, and a way to set an alarm or reminder for the time she needs to start the process.

Third, then tackle the hardest part: “Just do it.”  

 Step away and realize they may make mistakes and they may be late or even miss something. That is not your problem. When you take this monkey off your back, you are doing your teen a great service by helping him develop lifelong skills of maturity and responsibility.