After reading last week’s article on balance for the summer, Josh sent me the following question: “I agree with everything in your article. However, Dr. Cale, my kids are irresponsible. They won’t do anything I ask. And it just gets worse as they get older. What am I doing wrong? I lecture. I ask. I write down a list for them. They ignore me or just flat out tell me that none of their friends have chores and they won’t do theirs. Help!”

This week’s article will be about what we are doing to raise more irresponsible children, and next week I will discuss some concrete ways to bring about change.

Why Kids Are Irresponsible (When We Model and Teach Responsibility).

We teach entitlement when we don’t mean to.

How do we do this? It might be this simple: kids want and kids get.

They grow up, getting everything their way, with no zero effort put forth. They want new Nike’s, they get them. They want a new iPhone, they get it. They want something else for dinner, they get it. They suddenly want a sleepover, they get it. They want mom/dad to fix a problem, they get it.

Almost anything kids ask for…they get. How would they know that effort is required to get these things? The simple answer is: they don’t know this. They are taught (through our actions) that when you want something, you get it just by asking.

If you want entitled kids, just give them everything they ask for…and ask nothing of them.

We teach pretentiousness when we don’t mean to.

When children are little, we, of course, do everything for them. As they get older, they should have some responsibilities. Most of us grew up in a world where our parents expected us to contribute in some way to household responsibilities. We took care of our room, helped with the yard, set the table, and did the dishes. Many of us also did some chores for grandparents or volunteered at church once a month.

Taking part in the responsibilities of a home, family, and community was woven into the fabric of our lives. Our parents talked about this a bit, but it was more about action; the doing of the right stuff each day.

We simply give kids a pass on much of this in our current culture. Instead of helping out around the house, they are playing sports, going to parties, and having play dates with friends. It’s not that these activities are bad, it’s just that balance is required. We must view it as a serious issue if there is no time left for children to take part in responsibilities. I hear these children telling parents, “I don’t do dishes. That’s your job.”

Ouch. Serious issue.

The most likely way your children learn to take responsibility for their lives is to give them responsibility early in life. You do this in small ways at first and then increase over time. But the time to start is likely now for many of you. Not later. Why?

We talk too much and require little action.

In our culture, we have moved toward placing too much emphasis on the talk, the lecture, and the heart-to-heart discussions with kids. These are important, but the responsibility is about action, not talk. (And yes, most of us model responsibility and hard work. That’s not typically the problem.)

I find most parents ‘talk a good game.’ We emphasize the importance of responsibility, but simply do little to require responsible action. It is the action that matters. It is the daily practice of responsibility that becomes ingrained in our children. Please remember this: talking or lecturing will simply not do it.

Can they get it in other ways? Perhaps. But if we want to take the path with the most likely outcome of having a responsible child, then we must build these habits into daily practice.

In next week’s article, I will discuss the ‘how to do its a piece. For now, notice where you can talk less, require more, and balance life; with less about kids getting what they want, and more about contributing (to family or community).