Have you ever heard someone complain about being pulled over by the police for speeding? A common response some people have during such unlucky experiences sounds something like this: “But, officer…many cars have been driving at a higher rate of speed! Why aren’t you pulling them over?” “Because”, the officer might reply, “I observed you traveling 20 km/h over the speed limit and you are responsible for your driving not theirs.” It happens all the time. People make poor decisions and then, when they get caught, they can have trouble taking responsibility for their actions.
In schools, we encounter this scenario on a regular basis. Children make an error or exercise poor judgement and, when they get called on it, they often respond, “Ya, but so-and-so was doing that, too!” It’s almost like some kids believe that if they do something wrong – and others manage to avoid being caught – being let off the hook is a reasonable and justified response.
In our modern culture, we see many examples of a failure to take personal responsibility for one’s actions, children and adults alike. It’s all around us every day and, if we are not vigilant, the slow creep of “responsibility deficit” can impact a person negatively in their personal relationships and in their work.
As parents and teachers, we should all be very attuned to the inculcation of responsibility among our children and students. Much has been written these days about the “entitled and over-indulged generation” we see around us. The traits that such a generation exhibits are the antithesis of what it takes to be responsible: frequently expecting things to be done for them that they could do for themselves; being demanding; not showing gratitude or appreciation; often having an abundance of “things”, but never feeling like they have enough; not tolerating frustration well; having a hard time delaying gratification; not admitting to mistakes; not trying to do one’s best; and not thinking about giving back or being generous, either at home, in the school, or in the community.
If we want to avoid the scenario of raising adults who can’t accept responsibility either for traffic violations or more, we need to become adept at carrying out the “executive” role with our kids. By carrying out this role, we can avoid the pitfalls of over-indulgence, help our students and children feel good about themselves, and learn to be responsible. It’s really nothing innovative, but in the end, essential: set limits; say no and mean it; hold children accountable; establish and enforce rules; set expectations; encourage children to give back in some way; assign chores and make sure they get done; AND set and follow through with consequences.
Of course, one of the least helpful things we can do for any child we care about is adopt the role of apologist – or defender – of behaviour that is really unacceptable. When we do that, we send a clear message that responsibility is optional or secondary to self-interest.
No one likes to be “caught” in a web of their own making! It feels sticky and uncomfortable and it can be upsetting for sure. Yet, it is right in that space of discomfort where some of the biggest gains can be made in terms of personal growth and self-improvement.
As parents and teachers in the “executive role”, we need to be comfortable with this discomfort zone and stay the course.
By the time most kids will reach the age of 21, they will be amazed to see how much their parents (and teachers!) have learned!
Ric Anderson, Head of School