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The Importance of Sharing Responsibility with Your Kids by Tim Elmore
Dawn Bickford
Friday, April 10, 2020

Have you ever heard your student, employee, or son or daughter say something like:

  • That wasn’t my fault. (And you know it was.)
  • Mrs. Vargus gave me a bad grade. (And you know it was earned.)
  • He made me do it. (And you know it was a choice.)
  • You don’t trust me. (And you wonder if you should.)

Responsibility is something students usually learn as they mature. Our culture today, however, makes it difficult for kids to do so. In 1954, Dr. Julian Rotter created a scale to measure whether students had developed an internal locus of control (They assume responsibility for their lives) or an external locus of control (They assume external forces control their lives). Over time, Dr. Rotter concluded that those with an internal locus become measurably more successful than those with an external locus. They take more responsibility for their health, their careers, their marriages and families, and their attitudes. The data reveals, however, that over the last 42 years, U.S. students have experienced a steep incline in possessing an external locus of control and a decrease in possessing an internal locus of control. The shift has been so great that the average young person today has a more external locus than 80% of the young people in the 1960s, according to Dr. Peter Gray from Boston College.

Seven Ideas to Share More Responsibility with Your Students

So, how do we as adults (especially parents) avoid taking too much responsibility or control over our kids’ lives? Too often, we are the culprits preventing students from owning their responsibilities because of the way we interact with them. Let me offer some ideas if this is your challenge.

1. Stop before you lecture.

When you spot children’s irresponsibility and want to lecture them, pause and breathe. You can either be a surgeon or a vampire, to use one of our Habitudes®. Vampires suck the life right out of a young person by venting on them. Surgeons carefully remove the problem and foster recovery. Wait a moment and use careful words that restore rather than punish. Discuss the goal they want to reach not what just happened.

2. Ask yourself: What does my child need from me?

Kids with dyslexia or ADHD or some other learning disability need different guidance from parents than what seems logical in the moment. It may be they need you to clarify their big goal, or perhaps they need to create a chart or a list or a schedule to keep them on track. Encourage them—but don’t do it for them. Consider their objectives and work backward from there. Don’t think control; think connect.

3. Leverage a process of delegation.

Often, we parents seize too much control of our children’s lives because we don’t want them to fail. It makes sense, but it’s not sustainable. When does it stop? Twenty-five or 30 years old? Start the process of slowly passing on ownership to your child by breaking down all the steps of each task, and one by one, turn them over to your son or daughter. You do a lot at first. Then you divide the task evenly. Then they do most of it. Then they take it all.

4. Focus on you, not your child.

I’ve never been able to control a teen’s attitude, but I’m tempted to try. It’s a myth. Parents need to focus on themselves and their controllables. Ask yourself: Have I done anything that might be enabling my child’s irresponsibility? Do I nag or nudge him or her? Do I over-function and send the signal that mom will do it if he or she doesn’t get it done. In the end, you must find the answer to what a responsible parent would do at this point.

5. Stop controlling and rescuing your child from mistakes.

Part of the reason for the rise in students’ external loci is parental intrusion. Parents today can over-function and remove the consequences for their children’s mistakes, hindering them from learning responsibility. If you rescue them by rushing their forgotten assignments to school, they will learn to depend on your sense of responsibility not their own. They will never genuinely mature if you don’t let go of the reins and let them grow up.

6. Recognize when you’re in your child’s box.

This is a term used by Empowering Parents. Your child needs his or her own box, a territory that belongs to him or her. Often times, parents don’t realize when they’ve crossed boundaries and intruded on the child’s territory. Boundaries have a growing importance in a teen’s life, and we must honor them. Students learn best when we stay in our lane.

7. Stick to agreed-upon consequences and rewards.

Once your student agrees to some standards, deadlines, or goals and the appropriate rewards and consequences, you will sabotage the process if you fail to fulfill or enforce them. Consistent follow-through may be the most important facet of conditioning mature conduct. Responsibility may be the very first signal of self-leadership, and that’s a significant trait to build.