Whenever I ask parents how responsible their child is, I hear interesting sound effects: hysterical laughter, deep groans, or long sighs accompanied by eye-ball rolling. I have yet to meet a single parent who is satisfied with how responsible their child is.
Part of the tension about the topic of responsibility has to do with some of the current thinking and research that I’ve been reading lately.
1. Child and adolescent development researchers say that encouraging kids to be responsible takes a long time. While you can start when kids are young, you need to continue providing opportunities for kids to practice and learn responsibility as they grow through the years.
2. While research makes the case that teaching responsibility takes years, society is more impatient. In fact, there is a major segment in our society that claims that we shouldn’t blame kids when they’re irresponsible—we need to blame their parents (even though parents discover from day one that they can’t completely control their child).
3. Responsibility experts say that you can’t teach responsibility. Instead parents can provide opportunities for kids to become responsible. These include letting kids perform tasks (instead of the parent doing them), giving kids lots of practice, and using natural and logical consequences.
Part of what I’ve discovered about encouraging my kids to be responsible is that kids tend to go through two distinct phases. First: As they grow from infancy through the elementary-school years, I saw both of my kids slowly become more responsible. They began to keep track of their things (without losing or misplacing them all the time). They learned to put their things away—on most days. And they began to get the hang of doing homework on a regular basis and working hard on it.
Then phase two hit: puberty and the teen years. It was like my kids became black holes! Everything I had taught them up until that point seemed to vanish. Suddenly they couldn’t keep track of anything. They became inconsistent with schoolwork. They didn’t want to help anymore because they had more important things to do (such as talk on their cell phones, go to the movies, or text).
So I started over. (Or at least, it felt like I started over.) This time, however, I had two reluctant learners. Puberty brought on a series of unfortunate mishaps: the mp3 player got run over by a car, a permanent marker left in a pocket went through the wash (which meant I now have a beautifully speckled dryer on the inside),some homework was even marked an F because it was never turned in!
But I kept on them. Slowly. Slowly. Over the teen years, they gradually learned to take on more responsibility—although there are still some days when I’m certain they’re learning disabled in this area. As soon as I talk to other parents, however, I discover my teens are doing what most teenagers are doing: not being as responsible as their parents want them to be.
So, share your story with us: do you have any funny, embarrassing, or unfortunate mishap stories relating to responsibility? We want to hear from you!
Nancy Leffert, Ph.D., Peter L. Benson, P.h.D., and Jolene L.
Roehlkepartain, Starting Out Right: Developmental Assets for Children .
YgoY.com. Overweight Children in America—Childhood Obesity Statistics,
October 15, 2007.
Don Dinkmeyer, Ph.D., and Gary D. McKay, Ph.D., Raising a Responsible Child: How to Prepare Your Child for Today’s Complex World (New York: Fireside, 1996), 144-146.