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Teaching Responsibility

Child-raising and teaching responsibility

Itís a given.  Kids will say and do dumb things, you will have to tell them to do the same things over and over again, even though they know what you are telling them is good for them.  They will avoid their broccoli, use lunch money to buy a CD, ignore obvious dangers, and become offended when you say they are acting irresponsibly. 

Being responsible is more than just eating right and obeying the rules.  As humans, we also have responsibilities for things because we are a part of society.  It is in this area that we seem to be losing our children. 

Being responsible is also more than just being about actions.  It is a state of mind.  Itís what we do when nobody is looking, when there is nobody standing over you making sure that you do what you are supposed to do.  Itís choosing responsible action, if only because itís the right thing. 

Lumping people together into generations to call one less responsible only serves as an excuse for acting irresponsible.  If we label a generation as irresponsible and point to a child of that generation, logic flows that this child will therefore become irresponsible.  Instead of focusing on generations (other than as to how we should raise the next one), we need to begin to talk about responsibility as an individual requirement.

Being responsible is necessary

As a society, we depend on people to do the things that are necessary, not because of a looming threat if those things are not done.  No society can keep a constant watch on all its participants.  The threat of force must be reserved for those few that ignore the lesson. 

Taking responsibility and acting on it is also the basis by which we develop and become better and successful individuals.  Employers seldom advance irresponsible people, and responsibility is the basis on which we all develop trust in other people.  Irresponsible people are simply not trust-worthy.

Responsibility is losing ground

We rarely hear of perpetrators ever pleading guilty in court.  When they do, itís almost always the result of a plea-bargain and where they would probably be convicted anyway, not out of any sense of taking responsibility.  The honorable person accepts responsibility when he knows he is wrong.

If you examine most lawsuits, you will find that we are suddenly no longer even responsible for what we put in our face anymore.  Lawsuits over fat-filled sandwiches and hot coffee in the lap aren't all that uncommon.  Why is corporate America now suddenly responsible for a lack of personal common sense and responsibility?   

This attitude also carries over to our children.  In the absence of any other example, children learn that shifting blame to someone somewhere is a preferable personal characteristic to accepting responsibility for their own actions. 

When faced with a decision to commit an act or not, a person raised with this understanding often bases their decision on the likelihood of being caught and punished instead of on what is right and wrong.  Their moral compass has given way to scale that balances potential costs against the potential gain.  Morality becomes a mathematical equation, and that only teaches you that that the only time you are actually wrong is if you get caught.

This makes for a very dangerous society.

Parents Ė bearers of the torch of responsibility

Children do not develop moral responsibility on their own.  Any innate moral instinct they may have been born with can easily be replaced in the first few years of life by watching parents and other ďrespectedĒ members of society act irresponsibly. 

Sociologists and psychologists have proved over and over, that if irresponsible parents raise a child, there is almost a certainty that his/her own behavior will not be more responsible than the parent. 

If a mother is disrespectful of her parents, itís virtually a guarantee that her child will be equally disrespectful of her.  If she is lazy, so will be the child.  If she cheats others, she simply cannot make the case that she is only cheating the large corporation or a government institution.  The child simply learns that cheating is okay, and developing excuses is part of the process.

Children learn right and wrong by example, not instruction.  While outsiders may influence the child's values in good or bad ways, the strongest influence on a child is the perceived actions of the parents.

It would of course be ludicrous to think that any parent will always do the right thing.  We are human, we will yield to temptation, and we will sometimes do a dastardly deed.  The responsible parent hits the crossroad here and must make the choice to go back, apologize, and take responsibility without excuse, and without trying to lay part of the blame on someone else.

Raising a responsible child

From the above, one might assume that the key to raising a child who is responsible and has a well-developed moral compass would be to make sure the child only sees the parents' responsible actions.  Thatís almost correct. 

Because children have an incredible well-developed sense of their surroundings, itís not enough to show them responsible moral behavior and assume they will look no farther.  Being responsible must happen all the time, even when the kids arenít looking and in areas that you are certain they will never notice. 

Though they seem to be otherwise engaged, children consistently notice the smallest details of their parentsí actions, and they compare them to what theyíve been told.  

A parent who teaches road safety will be questioned as to why they are speeding.  A parent who teaches abstinence and fidelity will be questioned about those adult movies they own.  And a parent that teaches honesty, but rips off their employer, fellow employees, fakes injuries, and pulls insurance scams will be busted, if only in the eyes of their children. 

Children see things in absolute black and white with no gray in the middle.  Itís wrong or right, not just Ďokay in this particular situation with these sets of circumstancesí.  Situational ethics are hard to understand, and are largely understood by kids as the set of excuses.

Which side of the fence do your kids/grandkids see you on?  Do they see you as a moral authority or do they see you as a guide through legal landmines, an excuse maker, or someone who makes your own rules as you go along? 

The responsible environment

Can you protect kids from the negatives of the world around them?  Certainly not.  Society and the media seem bent on giving kids a bad message no matter which direction you turn.  And then there are those relatives and neighbors that weíd just as soon keep the kids away from.  While protecting kids is the absolute and number one duty of a parent, itís not a good thing to isolate them either, even if we could. 

What is important is to deal with the things they come into contact with in a proactive way, teaching them that there are bad things in the world; but that personal responsibility means avoiding those bad things, staying out of circumstances that may be tempting, and even avoiding the appearance of being wrong.  Kids that hang out with problem children are assumed by others to be of a similar nature, and they are treated that way.  

Teaching responsibility is the surest way to protect your kids and grandkids from peer pressure and temptation.  Yes, this includes grandparents as well, if not more.  If and when parents do mess up, kids look to those grandparents to decide if the parents are giving the right message.  So, are you part of the answer or part of the problem? 



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