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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.

Parenting and business management have a fair amount in common. Both roles require oversight of behavior to get the best outcomes. However, as a parent you will want to eventually transform from the boss-like management where you are the one in charge of all of your child’s problems, to a coach that will guide your teens into having them make their own decisions.

In Michael Bungay Stanier’s book, ”The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever,” he teaches managers and coaches essential questions to help people work through their most difficult challenges in the corporate world. 

Who has more difficult day-to-day challenges than teenagers? 

Almost everything a teenager comes in contact with challenges in terms of relationships, stress from school, and social pressures. These problems are a brand new experience for them. Each situation presents an opportunity to contemplate a solution, try to solve an issue, and to learn from a success or failure. How are we as parents allowing our kids to face these learning moments? How can we be more like a coach, rather than a manager, to lead and support our teens through this season ripe with opportunities to grow.

The questions Bungay Stanier suggests do not only apply to coaching in the business world. It can also provide the perfect formula for transitioning our parenting from the telling and rule-based phase of the elementary years to the coaching phase of the teen years and beyond. The goal is to help teens move from always needing advice to being able to make wise decisions on their own.

How can we use these questions to lead our children to become more independent?

  1. The Kickstart Question: “What’s on your mind”?

Just as you have probably already learned, open ended questions give more room for interesting answers. If you want to actually know about what is going on at school, you have probably learned not to ask, “How was your day?” The one word teen answer to this question almost never leaves room for further discussion; it simply closes the door. Alternatively, “What’s on your mind?” opens the door to discovering not just the logistics of his day, but what is important to your son. This question helps you move immediately to what’s top on his list. Even better, it makes it super easy to jump from small talk right into what matters to your teen. 

  1. The AWE Question: “And what else?”

This seems so logical, yet so hard to do as a parent. If you are at all like me, you love solving problems. There are just so many as a parent. However, if we want our kids to be able to solve their own problems (isn’t this the long-range goal of parenting?), we have to step aside and let them do the work necessary to figure out what needs to be solved and how to solve it. The AWE question draws out double what you get from the Kickstart question. Sometimes teens just don’t know when they answer the first question. The second question helps to clarify things for them and for you too. Bonus: it builds the trust you need early in the conversation.

  1. The Focus Question: “What’s the real challenge here for you?

This is the meat and potatoes. Be patient. Do you hear the wheels in your daughter’s head turning? This is where you coach yourself to not open your mouth and shout out an obvious answer. Right here is the hard work we have to do so our thirty year old daughter is not calling us to solve a problem at her job. The answer to this question helps drill down to what the real issue is. Wait for it.

  1. The Foundation Question: “What do you want?”

Finally! This is what matters to them! If your teen trusts you, this answer is from their heart. If they don’t trust you, duct tape your mouth, open your ears, and test your patience by waiting for the answer. If they truly believe you want to help them, affirming their answer to this question is a huge deposit in your relationship bank account. The first three questions lead your teen to the place where she can answer this question well.

When asking these questions to your teen, it is key to approach it as a coach (as opposed to manager). Ask one question at a time and wait for the answer. With some kids, you may have to take a break and ask them to think about it and get back to you when they have an answer. Your bringing it back up and having a patient but relentless pursuit of getting to the last question and answer will build trust. It will also instill confidence in your teen to know that you are on his team and are truly seeking what is best for him, not just a pat answer or quick solution. 

Whether you memorize them, store them on your phone for reference, or write them on an index card, these questions will serve you well. Having a goal of transitioning from a manager to a coach will keep you focused when you would rather solve the problem for your teen than let him solve it. Remember, it’s not what you know, it’s how you execute what you know.

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.

I am so not ready for this. He’s probably going to screw it up. Maybe not in a huge way. He can recover. It will be a great lesson.


Read that again. Does that resonate with you in any area of your tween or teen’s life? If so, she is ready for a new responsibility. What is holding her back? Could it be you?

This exact scenario played out in my mind and caused me to realize that I was keeping my 14-year-old son from learning a valuable skill. He had been babysitting the neighbors’ kids and making a decent amount of money. Every week I would request payment from the dad through Venmo. Depending on how many days he worked and how many hours, I would calculate the amount and send the neighbor a Venmo request. It dawned on me that McGuire should be the one doing this. Not only because it takes my time and is something I don’t enjoy doing, but also because he will be better off if he owns this responsibility.  As Amy Morin, LCSW, writes for Verywell, “Make sure you’re investing time into teaching your teen life skills. Practical skills, like how to do the laundry and how to cook meals, are important. But it’s also essential to make sure your teen knows how to manage his money and understands how to communicate with other people effectively.”

I am scared to death. It is real money. He could blow it. What is the worst thing that could happen? I am here. I can have a period of supervision during which I check and recheck his accuracy. So tomorrow, I’m going to sit down with him and take the next step. We’re going to have a discussion about the gravity of this responsibility, and about his role in keeping up with his hours and requesting money from the neighbor. I’m going to open a Venmo account with him. (According to the Venmo user agreement, you must be 18 in order to have an account. In the case of minors, if a parent is the custodian of their bank account, the parent is actually the Venmo account holder.  So it is still under your oversight until you officially turn it over at 18.) I am going to try not to take the phone away from him while he types in the account number and important information. I can already feel my stomach filling with butterflies. I am going to let him link his savings account with Venmo. Again, I feel terrified.  Godzilla-sized parent fears are circulating everywhere. But I will be strong. I will crush those fears with the knowledge that I am raising a responsible adult. I know he can do this. He will need help and he will have questions. But I know he can do it. And I am going to let him.

What is it that you are holding onto that your teenager could be doing for herself? How can you prepare her for adulthood by taking a step back and allowing her to take a step forward? Now is the time. In every situation of handing over responsibility, it is important to have a discussion about whose responsibility it is and how the transition will occur. Teach your teen how to do what it is you are asking her to do. Let her know she can always ask you questions and come to you for advice.  And even if you are not 100% confident she can handle this responsibility, step back and let her try. You’ll be glad you did.


 “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.



Most parents have a vision for their children from the time they are young.  This vision usually includes a dream of a cap and gown, their graduate getting a job, moving out, and living successfully on their own.

However, most of us as parents don’t really have a specific plan for transitioning from doing everything for our toddlers to having teenagers doing most things for themselves. In fact, many of the things we do as well-meaning, loving parents actually discourage the achievement of this milestone. Do you know anyone who would rather pay for everything and do all the chores themselves if they had an option to have free rent, a full-time cook, maid, and chauffeur?

Boystown, a one hundred-year-old residential home for struggling kids, encourages parents, “Teens also want to be treated like adults. Parents can do this, first by teaching their teens they are responsible for the consequences of their choices, and second by holding them accountable for these choices.” If we want our teens to be motivated to achieve their own success, we have to transfer responsibility to them for “adulting.”  This seems easy enough, but if we check our own homes, we might find that we are unintentionally holding our students back by doing too many things for them. Now is the time to lovingly step back and allow our teens to assume responsibility for things they could be doing for themselves.

Ironically, what we do out of necessity when our children are little, becomes a habit as they grow older.  How do we decide when it is time for them to take on more responsibility?  Just as we are amazed at our toddler’s ability to drink out of a regular cup at a restaurant when we have forgotten their sippy-cup, we are also amazed when our sloppily dressed son gets a girlfriend and emerges from the laundry room with his shirt and khakis miraculously ironed. YouTube plus a little motivation is an amazing thing.  If he was able to iron today, could he have ironed yesterday, or perhaps a year ago? Probably.

So the way to tell if your teen is ready for a task is not to wait until he is magically able to assume it on his own, but to start handing off responsibilities and let him learn under your supervision. With this method, he will have the chance to make a few mistakes along the way and recover in a nurturing environment.

Here are five things you might be doing for your son or daughter that they can probably do for themselves

  1. Saving them from their “I forgot”s
  2. Making sure they are on time
  3. Doing their laundry
  4. Working out their transportation
  5. Making their lunch

If you decide to transition any of these tasks to your teen, there are three simple steps to follow.

One is to have a conversation about why you feel this is a job they can handle, and that you are no longer going to do this for them.

Two is to role-play or teach her the skill and make sure she understands. She should also know that she can come ask you questions if she needs help.

Three is to just let it go and not take over when he doesn’t do it perfectly. Here’s to growing those teenagers into successful adults!


Sam:  Mom, are you home?

1 minute passes

Sam:  MOM??  MOM??

Mom:  Yes, I’m home.

Sam: Whew.  I need you to bring me the paper I left on the printer in Dad’s office.

Mom:  You can just take it tomorrow. 

Sam:  It is due TODAY

Mom:  OK, I’ll drop it by the office on my way to the gym.

Sam:  No.  You have to bring it so I can get it by 3rd period and turn it in.  And you can’t take it to the office because that isn’t allowed.  Leave it in an envelope by the bushes by the tennis courts and I’ll come grab it.

Mom:  Just turn it in late.

Sam:  But this is 30% of my grade.  It affects my college apps.  PLEEEEASE?

Mom:  OK


How can we not save our kids from seemingly life-derailing mistakes? College admission seems to hinge on every grade. Any mark on a high-schooler’s disciplinary record feels like the anvil above Wil E. Coyote’s head just waiting to drop and ruin everything. As parents, we react to these circumstances with urgency and resolve, with love and our child’s best interest at heart. But what really is in their best interest?

If our goal is to transition our students into responsible adulthood, we may have to stop doing things that enable irresponsibility. If we were to look back at our parents’ generation, we would be hard-pressed to find a parent heading to school mid-day for anything other than to take a student to the emergency room.

I don’t remember my mom or dad ever coming to school except for a play or performance. Today it seems commonplace for parents to pop by the school for all sorts of things, including “saving” their student from having forgotten something at home. A project, lunch, notebook, gym or sports uniform, the list is exhausting. In The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, author Wendy Mogel makes a point of listing things that kids learn when they forget their lunch at school. Not only does that child learn a meaningful lesson about responsibility, their classmates have the opportunity to learn to share and feel compassion for a friend. We unintentionally steal these opportunities when we “save” our students from the natural consequences of their mistakes.

In order for us to stop rescuing our teens from their “I forgot” habits, we first have to decide that we are going to turn responsibility over to them. Sounds simple, but we have to commit to it wholeheartedly.

Second, we need to inform them of this in a kind but firm way. Whether that is a discussion in the car, a family meeting, or in a written contract that both parent and student sign, we need to be sure our intentions are clear. Even if the intentions are clear, there is a strong chance your teen will claim, “You didn’t tell me you weren’t going to ever bring me anything I forgot.” Or “I know you said that you weren’t going to save me from forgetting anymore, but I didn’t think you were serious.”

Third, we have to just not do it. When a simple trip over to school would “fix everything,” it takes all our willpower not to jump in the car and go. It is akin to exercise, the first workout is the most painful. Keep going and the pain becomes less and less each time—for both you and your teen. Eventually you are not phased by the requests for rescue. They come less and less frequently until they disappear almost entirely, and in their place you find a teen who takes responsibility for their own actions. Goal achieved.