Teaching responsibility to young people

My daughter mowing the front lawn at age 11

Weekly chores are a good way to teach responsibility.

My children are both grown and have not lived at home since they graduated from high school, save for summers and school holidays while they were in college. They both have professional careers, are debt free, rent their own apartments, cook, clean, and do all the things that we hope that young adults will be able to accomplish when they move out of their childhood homes. I have friends whose grown children are equally independent and successful as ours, but others not so much. Record numbers of college graduates are moving back in with their parents and other young people stay in their childhood bedrooms well into adulthood. Lots of people are quick to point out the tough economy the past several years as the main cause for this recent phenomena, but I believe there is more to it than that. We have failed as a society to properly prepare our children for rigors of being an adult. We have given them a sense of entitlement and inflated self-esteem, especially when we reward effort over outcome. Everyone gets a trophy.

So what makes the difference between raising an independent, confident young adult that can stand on their own two feet verses one who is comfortable being dependent on others? I believe that we need to get back to teaching responsibility to kids while they are growing up. Our children had regular chores around the house based on their age and skill levels. In elementary school we began to pay them each a weekly allowance that was tied to the completion of their household responsibilities. At the same time we helped them open savings accounts at the bank in their name and required them to save a portion of their weekly earnings. As they got older, they learned that they could increase their savings by working odd jobs for neighbors. When our oldest started driving, a relative offered  her ten year old car. It was a generous gift that we accepted with the stipulation that our son pay for his own insurance. He got a part-time job with a local beekeeper to help with his driving expenses and to pad his savings for college. In turn, our daughter also found part time employment when she started to drive.

All the while, we made sure their schoolwork didn’t suffer. They played community and interscholastic sports, volunteered and had fun with their friends. Yes they were busy, but they learned to manage their time, to set priorities. They learned that through their own efforts they could reach the goals they had set for themselves. We were always there to support those efforts but we gave them their wings and they learned to fly. We couldn’t be prouder of the responsible, independent adults they have become.

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