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Sunday, March 25, 2012

HOW DO WE TEACH RESPONSIBILITY?

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I've heard a lot of friends in the corporate world complain how irresponsible young people are these days. Initially, I just shrugged it off attributing it as a common complaint that comes with age, but it was recently enforced by some teacher friends who made the same accusation and how it was having an adverse effect on student grades. My first reaction was that it is simply a problem of parenting, that they lack the necessary skills to properly raise their children, but I believe it goes beyond this and is now a general problem in society.

There's no doubt parents command the lion's share of the blame for not teaching discipline, organization and accountability. We all probably know parents who, for one reason or another, fail to give direction to their offspring, coddle their every whim, and fail to discipline them. I know parents who do not just help children with their homework, but rather they do it for them. There are also those who bribe their kids with cars, clothes, computers and a variety of electronic trinkets without having to do any basic chores around the house. It is hoped such acts of kindness are appreciated, but more often than not they are taken for granted. Should the child want a new toy, the old one conveniently meets with an accident, thereby causing the parent to replace it.

There is nothing wrong with insisting on performing some chores around the house, be it nothing more than cleaning their room, helping in the kitchen, sweeping a floor, running a lawn mower, or whatever. The intent of such activities is not so much about "cause and effect", whereby "if you do this for me, I'll do that for you"; instead, it is more about teaching pride in ownership - this is "your" room, this is "your" home, these are "your" possessions. As a kid, I loved my bicycle, my baseball glove, my baseball cards, even my room; I "valued" them and consequently took good care of them. This makes the point that material objects are a reflection of our personality and, "You can make of it what you want." This attitude cascades to other endeavors, e.g., this is "your" school, these are "your" books, this is "your" team, this is "your" company, this is "your" desk or workspace, etc. The more a person can personally associate themselves with an object, the more likely they will assume responsibility for its well-being. In the process, they develop a sense of value and causes them to prioritize what is important and what is not. Pride in ownership helps to improve self-esteen and leads to a better work ethic overall.

In terms of schooling, it is important the parent convey the lesson to the child that it is "your" education, not the parent's, that they must take initiative and learn to think for themselves. If they are not taught the value of an education, society will leave them behind. When they learn this important lesson, the child's thirst for knowledge will simplify the teacher's job and homework will no longer be a problem.

Religious institutions are helpful for teaching the concept of personal value and morality. They can reinforce parental teachings of right and wrong. Unfortunately, attendance at churches and temples have declined over the years as parents no longer understand the importance of such institutions.

So, what is inhibiting parents, other than the obvious of being uncaring or too lazy to work with their children? Some think assigning responsibility simply isn't "cool," where taking charge of something and being held accountable is for saps. Then, there are those who are afraid to discipline their children as they rightfully or wrongfully fear criminal prosecution. Actually, they have been conned into believing it to be politically incorrect to discipline a child under any circumstance. To them, "corporal punishment" is a primitive concept from the past, but they should realize basic discipline is not. There is nothing wrong with a little "attitude readjustment" when the child is doing something wrong. The worst thing parents can do is allow television and the Internet to teach their children the lessons of responsibility and morality.

In business, there are people who "micromanage" their employees on everything, thereby freeing them of accountability. In this regard, it is no different than the parent who does the homework for the child, the workers learn nothing and assume no responsibility for success or failure. Instead, I have always been a proponent of "managing from the bottom-up"; teach and train your employees properly, empower them with responsibility, and hold them accountable. Managers should do less supervision, and more management (so should parents).

Let's face facts, parents cannot be around their offspring 24/7; you cannot live their lives for them. You can only help give them a start in the proper direction. After that, it is up to them. In a way, it reminds me of when I taught my son to ride a bicycle years ago. I first used training wheels for a period so he could get comfortable with the idea of riding on the bike, but when I thought the time was right, I removed the training wheels, steadied him on the bike, and gave him a gentle push. Fortunately, he picked up on it right away. I'm sure he experienced some falls in the early days, but he never went back to the training wheels. Oh yea, he also valued that bike and took good care of it.

To my way of thinking, teaching responsibility is less about "cause and effect", and more about helping a person learn the meaning of value: the value of home and property, the value of family and friends, and the value of self. Only then will they learn the meaning of respect and treat them accordingly. If the parents want the children to take responsibility for their actions, they should lead by example and take responsibility themselves. Just remember, they're "your" kids.

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

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http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

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Copyright © 2012 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.