How do I instill responsibility
in a 12-year-old?      
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Note: "Ask the Learning Advisor -- Ideas for Raising Successful Children" is a free syndicated column from The Parent Institute.

[JULY 18, 2005]  Q: My son is 12 years old and a great kid, but I can't seem to get him to take responsibility for anything. He doesn't get his schoolwork done, do simple chores at home or even feed the dogs he loves. When he says he'll do something, I believe he's sincere. But it usually doesn't happen. He's not lazy, but his grades are slipping fast. Nothing I do is working. His excuse is always, "I just don't have time!" How can I help him?

A: The fact is, we all have the same amount of time -- every day! Michael just needs to learn how to use his time wisely -- and it's something you can help him learn. Try these proven steps:
  1. For one week, have him keep a log of what he is doing at home in 30-minute intervals. Nothing fancy -- just a few words every half hour will do: making a snack, watching TV, reading and sending e-mail or instant messages, getting ready to do homework. Try giving him a kitchen timer that will sound a reminder when it's time to make notes about what he's doing.
  2. At the end of the week, review the log together. Before you make any comments, let him tell you what he notices about how his time is being spent. Was anything surprising? What was he doing most often? Least often? Having the time log in front of him will help him see patterns and ways to use his time better.
  3. Help him set up a daily schedule of important things he plans to do. After a few days, help him expand to a weekly schedule.
  4. Challenge him and help him make and follow a basic schedule for just 21 days. By then he will probably have developed a useful habit that will improve his school performance and will help him become more responsible for many years to come.

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Helping your son become aware of time and what he needs to do will require your encouragement and support. It won't happen overnight. But you will see improvement, and you'll both feel good about it!

[The Parent Institute]

For more information about helping children learn or to submit your own question, go to All questions will receive a prompt answer by e-mail.

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