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Responsibility and Consequences

by Ronald A. Rowe | December 9th, 2011 | Elementary

Children learn early on in life that there are consequences to their choices. They also learn, despite our best efforts to the contrary, that they can avoid the consequences if they can deflect the responsibility. In my years of working with children, I’ve heard it all. “The teacher didn’t explain that right.” “Nobody told me.”

One 5th grader recently told me that the reason he failed his math test was that his teacher got the wrong answer. When I worked the problem with him on a calculator to show him his error, he said that the calculator must be wrong! Children all try this strategy in one form or another at some point in their development: If it is someone else’s fault maybe I can avoid the responsibility.

While all kids are going to try this, some will learn early that it won’t work while others will continue pressing that button into adulthood. I was working with a young man recently on this very issue. His mother came to pick him up one day in an absolute lather because she’d gotten a ticket for making an illegal right on red. She didn’t dispute the facts, but was extremely angry with the police officer who issued the ticket. She said “He shouldn’t have given me a ticket; it was an honest mistake and I said I was sorry”. That put an end to the mystery of why the boy hadn’t outgrown the “it’s not my fault” defense mechanism. His mother was modeling that behavior in her life, so why wouldn’t he continue to try?

As parents and mentors, we need to be very careful about the messages we send. Children learn much more from what they see us do than what we tell them they should do. The world is full of victims who are beset by bad math teachers and irresponsible cops. We need to be bringing up a generation of leaders who will take responsibility for their actions and accept the consequences. In order to do that, we need to BE leaders who will take responsibility for our own actions and accept the consequences.

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