Parents, this is a plea. If you are a regular reader of my or my book, , you know that I’m generally upbeat and always espouse a partnership between parents and teachers. You know that I love teenagers – still – after teaching and working with them one-on-one for over 25 years.
So when I tell you that kids are less accountable than I’ve ever seen them, I hope you receive it in the spirit in which it is intended. We have seen the results of entitlement and of kids who don’t know how to work hard or struggle to overcome obstacles. The only way to truly empower them is to stop enabling our almost-adults and start preparing them for the real world.
Start by asking yourself if you do any of the following:
1. Contact a teacher when your child gets a less than desirable grade, with the primary purpose of asking for a re-do or a grade change.
2. Fill out applications for your kids to join clubs or organizations at their school.
3. Email teachers or check online lesson plans so that you can take charge of your kids’ schedules and assignments.
4. Allow your children to stay home when they are not legitimately sick, either as a break or to avoid a test or due date for which they are unprepared.
5. Question authority when your children have made poor choices and are dealt consequences.
If you replied yes to any or all of these, I’m asking you to think long and hard about the messages you are sending your children. Do you realize that every time you step in to “save the day,” you are teaching your kids lessons that are the exact opposite of what you want them to learn?
In order of the scenarios I introduced above, let me share what messages you are sending:
1. Grades are negotiable. If they don’t like the grade they’ve been given (grades never seem to be earned unless they’re A’s), it’s just the beginning of an argument about why the grade should be changed.
2. They are incapable of putting forth their best selves. They don’t know their own strengths. They don’t know their own desires. And if they are uninterested or tired, you’ll do it for them.
3. Learning is the responsibility of teachers and parents, not children. They are merely passive receivers of information. Learning is not an active pursuit, so they have no real stake in it.
4. Lying is fine. Disorganization is fine. Irresponsibility is fine. If they don’t want to do something, they shouldn’t have to do it.
5. They should not have to face the consequences of poor decisions. Your love for them is equal to covering for them. It doesn’t involve teaching the tough lessons because doing so would be best for them in the end; it’s more about making sure they know how much you love them right now.
I spend more time in my book talking about accountability than any other topic. You know why? Because accountability is the basis for everything we do in life. We either take responsibility for our decisions and our actions or we don’t. We either own our behavior or we don’t.
Every single one of us knows people (and we don’t have to look far – they’re usually in our own families) who are 48 years old and still don’t take responsibility for their lives. They blame others for their lot, they make excuses for their behavior, they live off the kindness and generosity of others, and they make the same mistakes over and over again. Many of these people could easily trace this pattern back to their early years when someone could have taught them accountability, but didn’t.
Are you going to be the parent of that 48-year-old? What can you do now to help your kids take responsibility for their actions?