While everyone wants their children to grow up to be polite and kind, there is another character trait that trumps them all: responsibility.
We all need someone we can depend on.
President Abraham Lincoln addressed acting responsibly before Congress in 1862. “Men,” he said, “should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and eternity.”
Eleanor Roosevelt put it this way: “The choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”
Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King reminded us that “you are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say.”
A new Pew Research Center survey found that parents view responsibility as the most important character trait to teach their children. It is followed by hard work and religious faith.
In last spring’s survey of 3,243 adults, 94 percent of parents said it is important to teach responsibility, and 92 percent said it is important to teach their children the value of working hard. Helpfulness, independence and good manners also ranked high.
Responsibility is simply the act of performing a duty or being in charge of a particular task. It also involves making decisions.
Action starts with teaching.
My son and my youngest daughter kick off their shoes in the living room and leave their dirty clothes on the bathroom floor.
They know what I’ll say if they don’t pick them up in time. “You have to be responsible for your own mess.”
On a typical afternoon, their duties are spelled out: “Clean up your room. It’s your turn to wash the dishes. Did you remember to feed the pets?”
Groans and sighs are common., but I tell them it’s better to have a positive attitude.
The Duke University Talent Identification Program (Duke Tip) encourages parents to begin teaching responsibly by assigning younsters chores around the house.
And just as there are penalties and consequences for adults who make irresponsible decisions, children must be held accountable, too.
The benefits of raising responsible children are endless. They learn perseverance through completing a task from beginning to end. For example, my oldest daughter is responsible for sweeping, mopping and cleaning the kitchen on Saturday mornings. In the beginning, she hated this chore and often she would fold her arms, sulk and do a poor job of cleaning up.
I encouraged her to stick with her duty until it was completed. Once she learned how to clean it correctly, she began to feel proud of her work.
“Good job,” I’ve often told her. She now understands better that being responsible has its own rewards.
Chante Dionne Warren is a freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.