Instilling Responsibility

Remember when you were a kid and you just wanted to grow-up so you could do all the great things that only adults got to do? Man did they have us all fooled! Sure, I can have cheetos for breakfast if I want to now, but when I was younger I didn’t have to worry about it going straight to my hips! We can also indulge in all the sugar we want whenever we want, but now we know what diabetes is so there’s no fun in that.

When we were kids, we didn’t have to worry about a thing. I knew that in the morning, breakfast would be provided, lunch would be there and at dinner time … there would ultimately be a plate of food before me; if it’s what I wanted to eat or not was an entirely different issue. My concerns, worries, and stresses were quite different from those of now. Just last night our son had a meltdown because we made him stop to eat dinner and wouldn’t let him return to playing his video game until he was finished with his dinner. It was a weekend and he could play video games according to our rules. I know… tough life, right?

He cried, pleaded, even tried to convince us to change the rules. He explained how it wasn’t fair because all weekend we were out-of-town for a wedding and he didn’t get to watch TV or play any video games and we continued to stand our ground explaining that he could as soon as he was done with dinner. The sooner he finished, the sooner he could return to his game. Then he asked us WHY? So we’re logical people and explained to him that it’s because we love him and want him to be healthy and that he needs to have his priorities in place because when he gets older he will eventually have homework, chores, and other responsibilities and he’ll want to do the fun things but will have to choose to do his responsibilities first so he needed to be obedient now so it wouldn’t be difficult for him later on when he got older.

That opened a whole new can of worms, because he was surprised at the word “work.” Because, “Mom, I’m just a kid, I’m too young to work”… to which I replied, “No you’re not too young to work. You already work helping out with little things, and as you get older you’ll have more and more responsibility and one day when you’re older you’ll get a job.” The conversation went on for a while, but I reassured him that it was nothing he had to worry about because we would teach him. The idea of working finally didn’t bother him anymore but he hadn’t given up on the why he had to be obedient. So we pulled our trump card… which isn’t “because I said so”… we turned to Ephesians 6 and showed him that God calls them to be obedient… “God said so”! We talked about it for a while, he thought it over, and ultimately he decided to eat his dinner and he got to play his game – phew crisis averted.

My children are no strangers to the concept of work. Quite differently, we have what I like to call a self-help system around here. When I was in high school I had the privilege to attend a private school where they had a system that the students were responsible for the upkeep of the school. Sounds ironic right, you pay to go to a private school and you don’t even have janitors? No, this wasn’t like the movie Annie or any other exaggerated imaginable thing, but good old responsibility that taught the students to respect their school because ultimately at the end of the day they would be cleaning it up. Needless to say our campus was always beautiful and my fondest memories are from Wooster. I’ve adapted the Self Help Program right into my own home and am an advocate that every school would be better off if they did the same. So my kids have always clean-up and picked-up after themselves, they clean their rooms, their toys, put their dirty clothes in the laundry, dirty dishes in the sink, shoes and coats in the closet, etc. As they get older their responsibilities will continue to grow, but we encourage them to help around in sweeping and dusting and other little chores because even if they’re not good at it yet, we want them to get in the habit. So clearly I was surprised that my son was taken back by the word “work”… he’s no stranger to the word!?

Ever since the “Occupy Wall Street” movement began my husband and I have discussed how to raise our children so they don’t have a sense of entitlement but rather value earning the things that they want. Recently I came across this article  that further supports our thinking, pointing out that parents have become too child-centered by making their kid’s happiness a priority at the cost of not equipping them with the tools they need to take care of themselves and others.

In the article, The New Problem of Entitlement, Lynne and Jim suggest countering the trend by giving your kids meaningful jobs as early and often as they are capable of carrying them out. As Christians, we have always focused on the concept of thinking of others first… serving others. Work, doesn’t have to feel like work, it could be an act of service and it could be a feel good concept as well that doesn’t have to be associated with payment.

It’s nice to give things to our children, but I’ll be the first to admit that I valued my first large investment much more than all the things that were ever gifted to me. Here’s an honest personal story…I’ve had a job ever since I could remember, some times two or three at a time, even with school and sports. I started saving for my first car way before I ever had a license. My parents co-signed for my first car and I purchased my brand-spanking-new Jeep Wrangler and struggled to pay every single dime for 5 years. When I graduated college my parents surprised me with what they thought would be a great gift of an upgraded 2005 Jeep Liberty and I was devastated. I cried my eyes out. Yes, years later I see that it was a much better investment and a family vehicle… yatta… yatta… but at the time it broke my itty-bitty heart because I had worked hard to pay for my Wrangler. I had pride in what I had worked hard to earn and it took 5 long years. Even if I were a billionaire (that’d be so sweet) I would want my children to have a real job so that they could have that feeling, so that they could learn the true value of a dollar.

Teaching our children these skills takes a lot of time and effort, especially at a young age. It’s not like we expect them to go and get a job but we need to instill in them responsibility and equip them with the skills necessary to succeed in the future. Often it’s much easier for us just to do the little chores ourselves (especially if we want it done right), but that’s not the point. The point is teaching them the lesson and how to be self-sufficient. There are some things that you just can’t learn in school or read in a book, there are some things that just need to be taught at home and responsibility is simply one of them.


Question of the day: Any suggestions and ideas of how to creatively instill responsibility in our youth?


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