Guest Blog: Tips for Raising an Independent Adult



Occasionally, we invite a guest blogger to contribute to the Hartney Law blog. Today, Nisa Libbey offers some great tips for helping your teens become more responsible.

Teens want to be responsible. Really.

So let’s just imagine that your teen right now, like mine, is hanging out with his laptop “goofing off” as my son and I have agreed to call his recreational computer time. You might be thinking about the frosty reception you would likely receive if you dropped by and said something like “Hey, when are you unloading the dishwasher?” or “How about scooping up the dirty clothes in your room and putting them through the wash?”

So what do I mean about teens wanting responsibility? They don’t act like they do!

Here’s your iron-clad argument: Your teens want to individuate. This means they want to become independent adults. They love us, but they want to leave us – this is the way of things. This means that  most of them will need to learn how to run a household, do laundry, take out the trash on the right day, create a budget, fill out a job application, remember when to change the oil in the car, etc. Your responsibility at this stage is to make sure they acquire as many of these skills as they are mature enough to learn while still under your direct supervision. Imagine you’ll be gone forever starting next week. What do you want your teens to know how to do? When I was a freshman in college and living in a dorm, I was shocked to learn that many of my peers had never learned how to do their own laundry. This means that someone else, probably mom, did laundry for them for the preceding eighteen or so years. Let’s just say that these new college students didn’t have a clue how to handle their clothes. WHAT?

So, to avoid this, you tell yours that, as really mature teens in training for independent living, they will need to learn how to be responsible for certain tasks and that they will need to practice their developing skills over time to become proficient. Emphasize that fact that your teens will need LOTS of practice. Your special needs teens need the same treatment.

Here are a few tips:

  • Don’t hand out orders. Teens hate that.
  • Do suggest a short list of options to focus on and let your teen decide what to work on. If you want to encourage your teen to work on something in particular, try pairing that task with less savory tasks. For example, if you really want your teen to rake the leaves off the front lawn, create a list including lawn raking with other tasks he’s less likely to choose such as scrubbing out two toilets and washing out the trash can. Odds are, you get to handle the toilets and the trash can and he’ll be out there raking and feeling like he got a great deal.
  • Do make a list. If your teen is very visual, make a list of pictures or sketches. Ideally your teen makes the list or sketches. Make sure they include little check boxes in their list. If your teen complains about your stupid sketches, definitely hand over the list-making to him or her.
  • Don’t complain about the quality of your teen’s work. His or her quality of performance will  gradually improve. Keep in perspective that you are teaching and your student needs time to learn. Meanwhile you get to learn to let go. You need the practice.
  • Do find specific aspects of their work to praise. Sometimes all you can get excited about might be the fact that you didn’t have to remind your teen to move the laundry from the washer to the dryer. That’s something to get excited about! Baby steps…
  • Don’t hang around and watch your teen work. You can work on something in your teen’s vicinity if your teen can tolerate parents nearby, otherwise, scram.
  • Do supervise indirectly. This means checking in to see how they’re doing and whether they need guidance. Again, no hovering.
  • Do teach them to use calendars or calendar apps to create appointments with themselves to complete tasks. Nothing beats teens setting their phones to nag them to do things. Had I had this support (and more supervision), the poor cat who depended on me to clean her cat box when I was fifteen would have a much cleaner box.

Got the idea? You, the benevolent, patient, slightly manipulative Master, will guide your fledgling Apprentice in the art of Independent Living without burning down the house, getting sent to collections or wrecking an entire load of whites with a new red shirt. You will listen and reflect and you will always strive to stay positive. You will accept less than mature behavior, always aware that there is another day. In fact there are several years of days available to you, especially if you have a late bloomer (take note especially you parents of exceptional children). The resulting capable young person your teen becomes is well worth the effort.

Nisa Libbey, OTR/L is an occupational therapist in private practice in Boulder, specializing in pediatrics and mentoring for parents and caregivers of youth and teens with developmental differences. Previously, she worked for several years at WINSi (Western Institute of Neurodevelopmental Studies and Interventions) in Boulder, working with children and teens with LD (e.g. Dyslexia), AD/HD, Anxiety and Depression. More recently she was on the program development team at Temple Grandin School in Boulder, focusing on sensory friendly learning environments and on development of life skills programming for students with Asperger’s and similar neurocognitive profiles. Nisa is also mother of three children, now young adults, all of whom have developmental differences, and all of whom are either independent young adults or attending community college. Learn more about Nisa and her work at


About the Author - Martha Hartney

A later-in-life attorney, Martha Hartney opened the practice in 2010 to serve the people she loves because she is committed to helping moms and dads bring their greatest gifts into parenting fearlessly and with joy and making sure children are completely cared for if something happens to their parents.

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