Raising Responsible Kids

Let's talk about this quote (p. 3-5) from Positive Discipline: The Classic Guide to Helping Children Develop Self-Discipline, Responsibility, Cooperation, and Problem-Solving Skills.

This book is 25 years old, and so lots of its content has already been incorporated into teaching and parenting practice. Nevertheless, the pages quoted below intersect nicely with a question I've been asking myself lately, which is: how do the radical changes society has been through in the last 20-30 years affect how we raise our children? Regardless of in the US or Taiwan, the teachers parents I know struggle with how much freedom to give kids, how much guidance, and where and what kind of limits to impose. This passage gives an interesting insight into the cultural source of some of our challenges.

Why don't today's children develop the same kinds of responsibility and motivation that seemed more prevalent in children many years ago?
There are many possible explanations, such as broken homes, too much television, video games, and working mothers.  These factors are so common in our society today that the situation would seem rather hopeless if they really explained our current challenges with children (And we all know of many single and working parents who are doing a great job raising their children because they use effective parenting skills.) Rudolf Dreikurs had another theory. 

There are many major changes that have taken place in society over the past few years that more directly explain the differences in children today.  The outlook is very encouraging because, with awareness and desire, we can compensate for these changes and in doing so can also eliminate some of the problems that many think are caused by broken homes, too much television and working mothers.

Equality not dominance/submissiveness
The first major change is that adults no longer give children an example or model of submissiveness and obedience.  Adults forget that they no longer act the way they used to in the 'good old days'. Remember when Mom obediently did whatever Dad said, or at least gave the impression she did, because it was the culturally acceptable thing to do?  In the good old days few people questioned the idea that Dad's decisions were final.
Because of the human rights movement, this is no longer true.  Rudolf Dreikurs pointed out. "When Dad lost control of Mom, they both lost control of the children." All this means is that Mom quit giving the children a model of submissiveness.  This is progress. Many things about the 'good old days' were not so good.

In those days there were many models of submission.  Dad obeyed the boss (who was not interested in his opinions) so he wouldn't lose his job.  Minority groups accepted submissive roles at great loss to their personal dignity. Today all minority groups are actively claiming their rights to full equality and dignity.  It is difficult to find anyone who is willing to accept an inferior, submissive role in life. Children are simply following the examples all around them. The also want to be treated with dignity and respect.

It is important to note that equality does not mean 'the same'.  Four quarters and a dollar bill are very different, but equal. children obviously do not deserve all the rights that come with greater experience, skills, and maturity.  Adult leadership and guidance are important. However children deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. They also deserve the opportunity to develop the life skills they need in an atmosphere of kindness and firmness instead of an atmosphere of blame, shame and pain. 

Belonging and significance
Another major change is that in today's society children have fewer opportunities to learn responsibility and motivation.  We no longer need children as important contributors to economic survival. Instead children are given too much in the name of love without any effort or investment on their part and they develop and entitlement attitude. 

Too many mothers and fathers believe that good parents protect their children from all disappointment. They rescue or overprotect — thus robbing their children of the opportunity to develop a belief in their capability to handle the ups and downs of life.  Skill training is often neglected because of busy life schedules or a lack of understanding of how important it is for children to contribute. We often rob children of opportunities to feel belonging and significance in meaningful ways through responsible contributions and then complain and criticize them for not developing responsibility.  

Opportunities to learn responsibility and motivation
Children don't develop responsibility when parents and teachers are too strict and controlling, nor do they develop responsibility when parents and teachers are permissive.  Children learn responsibility when they have opportunities to learn valuable social and life skills for good character in an atmosphere of kindness, firmness, dignity, and respect.

It is important to emphasize that eliminating punishment does not mean that children should be allowed to do whatever they want.  We need to provide opportunities for children to experience responsibility in direct relationship to the privileges they enjoy. Otherwise, they become dependent recipients who feel that the only way to achieve belonging and significance is by manipulating other people into their service. 
(1)Some children develop their belief, "I'm not loved unless others take care of me.”  (2)Others may develop the belief that they shouldn't try because they can't do very much that doesn't invite shame and pain.  (3)It is saddest when they develop the belief "I'm not good enough" because they don't have the opportunities to practice proficiencies that would help them feel capable.  These children spend a great deal of energy in rebellion or avoidance behaviors.