The Most Important Responsibilities Every Student Needs to Own

Jalen is 17 years old and in his junior year of high school. Like many teens his age, he’s preoccupied with making good grades, taking the SAT and getting into a good college. When I asked him about other concerns normally on the minds of teens like him—he balked.

Me: When did you get your driver’s license?

Jalen: I don’t drive. I don’t have my license yet. My mom drives me places, or I use Lyft.

Me: Are you dating anyone?

Jalen: Not really. I flirt with some girls on social media, but no real dates.

Me: So, if you don’t drive, does your mom take you to work?

Jalen: Oh, I don’t have time for a job. I play soccer, and I’m a brown belt in Karate.

Me: Have you ever worked for pay?

Jalen: Nope. I’ve never worked a job. And I’ve never drunk alcohol or had sex.

Jalen is actually part of a growing norm for teens today. Compared to teens from the 70s, 80s, and 90s, today’s teens “are taking longer to engage in both the pleasures and responsibilities of adulthood.” These are the words of research psychologist Dr. Jean Twenge, someone who’s become a friend over the last few years. Dr. Twenge is the author of iGen.

“The whole developmental pathway has slowed down, with today’s 18-year olds living more like 15-year olds once did.” The study is based on nationally representative surveys repeated with eight million teens, ages 13 to19, over several decades. It documents several trends often explained as separate phenomena. Yet, I think I see a pattern.

The Responsibility Path

A growing number of high school and college students take less responsibility for their lives than past generations of teens. It isn’t that they’re less intelligent or less gifted. Many of them are actually more talented and intelligent. The problem is the adults. We’ve assumed their responsibilities for them. The result can often be a frustrated parent, teacher, or coach asking themselves: What more can I do if Suzy or Ben isn’t taking any responsibility for his or her success? This list is meant to be discussed with your students—written to them about what they need to own.

Responsibilities Students Need to Own

1. Master your attitude.

You have no control over many obstacles that come your way, but you can control the way you respond to them. Own your attitude. Bad attitudes do you no good. Good attitudes can make the difference in whether you maintain creativity and optimism on the journey.

2. Be your own advocate at school.

Students have agency. You need to exercise it. Stake a claim in class and let the teacher know who you are and that you’re interested in succeeding. Stand up for what you need; ask questions; and own what you’ve agreed to do. This can be a game-changer.

3. Offer your best effort.

Students can’t get upset with their grades if they don’t invest energy. You should pursue your courses, sports teams, and other activities with an “all in” commitment. If you have to say no to some activities so you can focus, then so be it. Do less and achieve more.

4. Practice punctuality.

This has become more important to me as I age. When you’re on time, your message to others is, “I respect your time.” When you’re late, you unwittingly say, “I don’t care as much about your time as you do.” Be on time. Better yet, come early and prepared.

5. Surround yourself with people who can help you and vice versa.

Most students make friends accidentally—whomever they meet at a party, or a game, or in the residence hall. Why not identify and pursue helpful mentors, faculty, and friends who will nudge them toward where they want to go. And why not return that favor?

6. Navigate your screen time.

Most of our smartphones can report how much time we spend on them daily. Research demonstrates that fewer than two hours a day on social media leaves us less vulnerable to anxiety and depression. More than two hours results in greater vulnerability to mental health issues. Take charge of your phone and your time. It’s your life.

Would you add anything to this list? How could you discuss this list with a student?

The Most Important Responsibilities Every Student Needs to Own