Age-appropriate responsibilities for kids

Tammy McIntyre

Even though we want kids to grow up to become independent and accountable for themselves, when should parents trust their children with common things that kids and teenagers ask for? Bicycles, computers and cars are just a few. Let’s take a closer look at this dilemma.

“Ingraining responsibility in children is not a trick, but is simply teaching them life skills,” says Karen Ruskin, Psy.D., author of The 9 Key Techniques for Raising Respectful Children Who Make Responsible Choices. And responsibility isn’t just completing a task: “It’s also about an attitude, the idea of taking action and being proud of doing it, not just always having your mom and dad do it for you,” says Alex Barzvi, Ph.D., co-host of the talk show “About Our Kids” on Sirius Doctor Radio.

It is commonplace for kids to have access to electronic technology such as iPhones and Surface Pro Tablets. Schools have also made these items available, and it has become an expectation of many grade-school children. Although these technologies have been made available, who is actually responsible for taking care of them?

Here are several factors to consider when determining if and when your child should be given certain responsibilities:

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Contact lenses 

Four million American children under the age of 18 wear contact lenses. According to Gary Heiting, OD, physically a child’s eyes can tolerate contact lenses at a very young age.

In a recent study that involved fitting children aged eight to 11 with one-day disposable contact lenses, 90 percent of the kids had no trouble applying or removing the contacts without assistance from their parents.

If you are considering contact lenses for your child, take a look at how your child handles other responsibilities. Does he have good personal grooming habits, keep his bedroom and bathroom clean, and follow through with schoolwork and household chores?

If your children need frequent reminders to keep things clean and follow good hygiene practices, they may not be ready for the responsibility of wearing and caring for contact lenses.

Cell phones

According to PBSParents, many parents wrestle with the issue of cell phones for kids. What’s the right age for kids to get cell phones, and what about smartphones with their abilities to download apps?

These questions are best answered by asking other questions:

  • How independent are your kids?
  • Do your children “need” to be in touch for safety reasons — or social ones?
  • How responsible are they?
  • Can they understand the concept of limits for minutes talked and apps downloaded?
  • Can they be trusted not to text during class, disturb others with their conversations, and to use the text, photo and video functions responsibly?

If you think your children’s technological ability is greater than their ability to use it wisely, pay attention to the gap. It is a parent’s responsibility to say, “No, not yet.”

Staying home alone                                                                                                                                        

It’s obvious that a five-year-old can’t go it alone but that a 16-year-old probably can. But what about school-aged kids in the middle? It can be difficult to know when kids are ready to handle being home alone. Ultimately, it comes down to your judgment about what your child is ready for.

Some states have legal age limits. Minnesota doesn’t have a legal age limit at which kids can be left home alone. However, Hennepin County has age-related guidelines that its child welfare workers consult when deciding whether to investigate a complaint of inadequate supervision of a child.

In general, it’s not a good idea to leave kids younger than 10 years old home alone. Every child is different, but under age 10 most kids don’t have the maturity and skills to respond to an emergency if they’re alone.

As a parent, you know your child better than anyone. You will quickly be able to determine which child is ready for a laptop, which child can cook unsupervised, and which child has to be told to brush their teeth. Trust your instincts.


Tammy McIntyre, M.Ed. is a workforce development consultant providing individuals and small businesses with career development services. She welcomes reader responses to