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HOW DO WE TEACH RESPONSIBILITY?

Posted by Tim Bryce on March 25, 2012

(Click for AUDIO VERSION)
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, click HERE.

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!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

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

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

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Copyright © 2012 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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3 Responses to “HOW DO WE TEACH RESPONSIBILITY?”

  1. Jenn said

    When I turned 16, I wasn’t given a car. I was told that if I was “given” a car I would not appreciate it nor would I respect it. I begged to differ. My 16 year old self had other plans for the money I had saved in the bank. As it turns out– I had to make “payments” over 6 months to actually buy the title of the car from my Mom. I was told I had to put so much of my paycheck back from my little part time job to cover the cost of gasoline and repairs. I’ll never forget that first tire I blew and how it dipped into my savings–or the first oil change I had to pay for. However, it taught me to appreciate and respect that car I had. I took good care of it. I ended up putting 230K on it between high school and college. I’ve remembered this lesson through parenting.

    Something earned will be valued more than something given. It doesn’t work for everything in parenting–but it is a good start. Parents can only do so much– but they can also do a lot by just setting the example. Great post Tim!!

    Like

    • Tim Bryce said

      Jenn –

      Many thanks, and thanks for sharing your story which stresses the point of value. You see things differently when you have earned it as opposed to it being given to you; a lesson the whole country should be mindful of.

      All the Best,
      Tim

      Like

  2. Tim Bryce said

    A J.P. of Toronto, Ontario wrote…

    “Spot on with this one, Tim. Perhaps it is politically or socially anathema to say so, but I do believe the one-parent family is to a considerable extent at the root of the problem, even if said one parent family is wealthy, which of course many are not. An unstable adult is often (not always) the product of an unstable home, and a dysfunctional family is often (not always) a one parent family, rich or poor.

    In terms of personal pride or responsibility in ownership, I will tell the tale of my father reacting to my own view of my own, new home as a young adult. Always as a child or adolescent, I too was enjoined to cut the grass, wash the windows, shovel the snow, wash the family car and so on. I did these things with some reluctance and, shall we say, with less than perfect enthusiasm. On a visit with my mother to my own new home, my father observed an enthusiastic cutting of lawns, washing of windows, even (God forbid!) vacuming the interior broadloom! His comment was to the effect that what an enormous difference it made when it was ‘yours for real,’ so to speak.

    I should add that, being raised with a full-time, stay-at-home mom, I was nonetheless never asked to prepare a meal, vacume a rug, dust anything, wash dishes, make a bed or launder my own clothing. It was feared that such tasks would make me a ‘sissy’ or otherwise somehow unermine my masculinity. I know this sounds silly today, but that is the way it was in the 1950’s. Anything outside or to do with construction or associated tools – lawnmowers, shovels, putting out garbage, the family car, washing the exterior windows, building anything, such as a dry stone retaining wall – this was all good because it was appropriate to my ‘masculinity.’

    This translated into our raising of our own children, two daughters. It never occured to me they should cut a lawn, wash a car, build a deck or such-like. All their chores were inside work – cleaning, dusting, washing up after a meal and so on and such like.”

    An M.B. of Clearwater, Florida wrote…

    “It’s not just parents, though helicopter parents do deserve plenty of blame and their antagonism to teachers who call out their precious brats is not helping. Kids understand divide and conquer very well. A huge problem is that teachers are no longer allowed to discipline, and are forced to sign contracts that exempt them from recourse if they are attacked by students. Students know this, and that is all it takes to cause permanent disruption of a classroom with no learning going on. One of my friends who taught high school here was almost beaten to death by a large, 17 yr. old football playing student, just because she told him to ‘sit down’. His only punishment was transfer to another school in another state to live with his aunt. It took 17 operations and 2 years of physical therapy for her to function again, and her brilliant mind and Masters Degree can now only handle a waitress job in a quiet luncheon cafe. She also has several mental illnesses that she must take meds for for life for, due to the brain damage he caused. Due to her contract, she was not allowed to sue anyone.

    I know another ex-teacher who was reprimanded and denied tenure just for holding a student’s arms to stop that student from beating the crap out of him. He quit the next day and I don’t blame him.”

    A J.S. of Arizona wrote…

    “I guess how one does that can be somewhat complex, but I think your last paragraph is pretty much a good nutshell. I grew up fairly poor, so understanding the value of objects that can’t be easily replaced was rather easy I think, but the intangibles may be more difficult for some. Respecting value either material or otherwise, be it yours or other’s possessions or thoughts and ideas; they may have value in them you don’t recognize as well. I remember my parents discussing with me as simple a thing as ‘all you really have is your word.’ The value of your reputation so to speak, as a person or human being, how you see yourself I suppose, and taking the responsibility that goes with it because I alone own it. I can see it growing to most anything from that concept…”

    A J.S. of Skidway Lake, Michigan wrote…

    “I don’t think the micromanaging parents realize that they are crippling their children, but they will. So many of our friends have adult children who are very irresponsible and it’s coming back to bite these parents. Even worse, the kids whose parents have run their lives for the first 18 years, often fold up like a cheap card table under the first onset of stress. They have no management skills or coping skills.

    One of the hardest things we do as parents is to stand back and let our kids fail. Their disappointment is more devastating to us than to them. A responsible parent helps the kid get back up and then expresses confidence in his child’s ability to cope. We let them know that mistakes happen, but we know they will set things right. ‘Let me know if I can help,’ keeps the responsibility on the child which is much better than saying, ‘Poor baby. Let mama fix it’.”

    A K.S. of Oklahoma wrote…

    “Well now Tim, now you have done it. THIS is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. As a parent of two – a 22 YO boy and a 17 YO girl, I am all over this resposibility idea. I can definitely see that in today’s society, our youth has this immediate gratification attitude. Come on, IM (Instant Message), texting, microwave ovens, smart phones, etc. Where is it that they actually have to work and earn someting that they want? If they do not work and sacrifice, than the care and responsibility does not exist. They do not ‘have any skin in the game’.

    We always had the philosophy that it it was not goign to result in the loss of life or limb or permanent damage, let them fall on their face. Let them embarrass themselves. We will be there to help them get up, console them and guide them but they need to learn to ‘ride without training wheels’ on their own.

    Being a responsible parent, manager, friend, etc. is very valuable and helpful but they still need to learn this their own way in their own time. (Hopefully they will learn fast as THEY are our future.)”

    A J.D. of Dunedin, Florida wrote…

    “Good piece. No argument here.”

    A G.A. of Dunedin, Florida wrote…

    “This is a thoughtful and well written commentary. Thank you.”

    Like

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