How to raise helpful teenagers…or why we asked Teddy’s Mom

When Teddy turned two years old, his family held a big birthday party for him, full of relatives, cake and a mountain of presents.  He was encouraged to open them, finding adorable stuffed animals, cars, trucks, books and balls.  All new and shiny, all colorful and appealing.  But Teddy wasn’t persuaded to leap into this new pile of toys.  Instead, he grabbed his little broom and began sweeping and sweeping.  His grandmother and aunts encouraged him, pointing to spots he had missed and he happily repeated what looked like preparations for his party.

Michaeleen Douclef of National Public Radio has found this behavior in certain Mexican and Guatamalan families can be the foundation for creating children who emerge as helpful and responsible teenagers.  Young toddlers who are welcomed when they wish to “help” their parents grow up to be teenagers who tackle chores on their own initiative!  How could this be?

When I was a young parent,  the one word that could strike fear in my heart was “teenager.”  It was when our apple cheeked, smiling children would transform into gangly, sullen morose creatures who would hide in their rooms, refuse to speak with us and above all, refuse to help around the house.

Over the years, I noticed some exceptions to the stereotype, when a friend remarked gleefully about her son,  “Now that he’s a teenager, he’s so useful!”  It wasn’t the isolated brag, Alex actually enjoyed running errands and helping Dad, who reportedly glowed when it came to  their offspring.

Then there was the family picnic, when I watched a group of pre-teen boys include and watch carefully over a decidedly pre-verbal toddler.  Teddy happily raced after the group of big boys, safe and feeling part of the gang.   You normally expect this of five and six year old girls who have young siblings, but a pack of boys??

A few years later, one of the gang, now a dreaded teenager, became the loving big brother to his baby sister, who will undoubtedly grow up adoring Leo.

When I was at Chaffey College, getting to know the young student journalists at the Chaffey Breeze, I met Omar whose older sister was raising Stephanie.  Omar delighted in being asked to babysit, to chauffeur Stephanie to volleyball games, keeps proudly posting his niece’s accomplishments on facebook..

At about the same time,  I met a group of older teenagers,  young women and men who at the time were DACA recipients, eagerly looking for work and for ways to help out with the family income while they completed their classwork.  They were eager and articulate, telling me “It’s the least we can do for them, after all they do for us.” It struck me as unusually mature.

So is there a secret to how these young people emerged as helpful and responsible teenagers?

The answer lies in harnessing the energy of children when they are toddlers.  Psychologists, including Suzanne Gaskins of Northeastern Illinois University, Barbara Rogoff of UC Santa Cruz and Lucia Alcala of Cal State Fullerton, observed that  in certain Mexican and Guatemalan families, young toddlers are welcomed when they wish to “help” their parents. And in time, this lays the foundation for creating children who emerge as helpful and responsible teenagers.  Young toddlers who are welcomed when they wish to “help” their parents grow up to be teenagers who tackle chores on their own initiative! How does this work? We asked Teddy’s Mom, Val Pilar Gonzalez Munro who, with her husband Andrew, is raising two decidedly “helpful” toddlers.  They invited us to see how Teddy and Mile are learning to help!  is a list of published articles by Lucia Alcala, assistant professor of psychology, CSUF on the subject.

Here is a link to the NPR story on the subject:





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