APSGO Parenting Blog

12 things you can do to build irresponsibility in your child

  1. Lie for him.
  2. Make excuses for his behaviour.
  3. Correct (or pay for) his mistakes.
  4. Model a lack of responsibility, commitment and follow-through yourself.
  5. Refuse to believe that he is capable of doing what he’s been accused of doing.
  6. Fight his battles for him.
  7. Tolerate and excuse abusive or unacceptable behaviour from him or others in order to avoid additional conflict.
  8. Be sloppy about holding him accountable for his behaviour, especially if you’re tired, frustrated or starting to wonder if it’s worth the bother.
  9. Routinely let him get away  with things if he has a good enough excuse.
  10. Do his chores and take on his responsibilities. Tell yourself it’s easier to do it yourself.
  11. Let him have privileges even if he hasn’t followed through on his commitments or what was required first.
  12. Use rationalizations like “Just this once” or “Okay, but this is the last time.” Add, “I really mean it this time,” even though you don’t.

from The Parent’s Little Book of Lists— Dos and DON’Ts of Effective Parenting by Jane Bluestein

Teaching  responsibility         

There are two questions that we as parents need answers to:

  1. What is responsibility?
  2. How can we teach it to our kids?


Responsibility is the ability to fulfil one’s needs, and to do so in a way that does not deprive others of the ability to fulfil their needs.

—William Glasser

I would add that responsibility, in the context of relationships, is also co-operative. It’s each person exercising their ability to fulfil their needs, while living within the framework of win-win, co- operative relationships.

Responsibility is not the same as obedience. A responsible teen is not necessarily one who’s compliant – who does as she’s told or does what you know is best for him – but one who knows how to get her own needs met by co-operating with others. Win-win. Everyone gets what they want.

How we teach                        

How do we attempt to teach responsibility? Here are the two tools we most commonly use:

  1. lecturing (includes nagging, criticizing, “correcting,” advising, reminding)
  2. rescuing
  3. punishing.

These aren’t particularly effective, because that’s not the way teens learn life lessons.

How we learn                      

In 2004, the Chicoutimi, a refurbished submarine that Canada had purchased from England, floundered off the coast of Ireland. This was an obvious embarrassment to Canada. When the Rear Admiral of the Canadian Navy was asked to comment on this, he answered, “Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from good judgement.”

The message is clear: We learn from experiencing the results of our actions – also known as consequences. We do something and experience an outcome, and eventually we begin to make the connection between what we’re doing and what we’re getting. A satisfactory outcome lets us know our actions were effective; an unwanted outcome lets us know our actions were less effective.

We do not learn from dire warnings. Have any of you ever understood “hot stove” without experiencing hot?!

While consequences have come to mean something bad that happens to you when you don’t behave, that’s really the defini- tion of punishment. A consequence isn’t good or bad; it’s just an outcome.

There are two types of consequences:

  • Natural consequences occur without the involvement of anyone else (e.g., if you drive under the influence, you may end up in a ditch – or worse).
  • Logical consequences involve another person (e.g., if you’re pulled over for impaired driving, your license will be suspended).

This process fails to work, though, when parents interfere with it and attempt to replace consequences with

  • rescuing and
  • punishing “to teach her a lesson”

This really muddies the waters, because the teen is denied the opportunity to experience the actual outcome of his behaviour and learn from it. (A future article will deal with why parents rescue, what our teens are really learning from this, and what we can do instead.)

How we can teach better       

So how can we teach responsibility?

  • By allowing them to be accountable for what they do, by letting them experience the consequences of their actions. This means not rescuing or interfering – no matter how uncomfortable it is for you.
  • By asking questions that encourage them to figure out (a) what they want, (b) whether what they’re doing is working, and, if not, (c) what they could do instead.
  • Most importantly, by showing them what responsible behaviour looks like. But in order to do that, we have to be responsible ourselves and model responsible behaviour. And that involves a whole lot more than going to work every morning, cleaning the house and paying your bills on time!

Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others; it is the only means. —Albert Einstein

Don’t worry that children never listen to you. Worry that they are always watching you. —Robert Fulghum

Look in the mirror. Can you see yourself through your teen’s eyes? Does he see someone who’s self-assured, confident, ready to take on the world, happy and fulfilled?

Or does she see someone who’s angry, depressed, resentful, overwhelmed, unhappy and dissatisfied? If so, how eager do you think she is to grow up to be just like you?

You must be the change you wish to see in the world. —Mahatma Gandhi

So focus on you – and be the adult you want your teen to become!

by Sue Kranz, from APSGO News Summer 2007


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