Expectations that build character

Washington had oodles of Character
Washington had oodles of Character

Some readers might have given up on my series regarding expectations for young people. After all, it seems like a diatribe against education, government or parenting. Aren’t their some expectations we should have for our children?

Duh. Lack of appropriate expectations has damaged our youth as much as unrealistic expectations. Maybe even more.

We all need a standard set before us – a model to follow. For generations, parents modeled standards for their children. In more recent years, I see parents willingly submitting this duty (really an honor) to government and educators.

This is one of the biggest problems in our society. Whether parents want to be the role model for their children or not, they are being watched. Many children will follow their parents’ example without consciously deciding to do it.

So, it’s past time for parents to step up. If you had a child, you have some responsibilities to that child. Uncle Sam isn’t responsible to teach your child anything. (Do you really want the political system of the day deciding what your child needs to know?) Your neighborhood school should be teaching reading, writing and mathematics, but we all know there is so much more to life than those things.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on four areas where we should have solid expectations for our young people: work, responsibility, accountability and respect.  These areas (and I would personally add values, but I won’t open that can of worms) can guarantee young people develop admirable character.

A Work Ethic

You don’t have to tell me; work is a four-letter word. Many people try to avoid it as much as possible and it’s beginning to show in our younger generation.

A simple homework assignment that might take 15 minutes is too much work for many kids. Rather than researching a topic, they will Google an already completed paper on the subject and turn it in as their own work. Gaming, texting, social media hangouts and pursuit of other interests monopolizes their free time.

What happened to a list of daily chores? I know, kids scream “child abuse” and so parents back off. Who wants a confrontation with a mouthy teenager anyway? Not any sane person.

The solution is to give kids chores at a young age. I’m not recommending child labor. A four-year old can pick up their own toys and dirty clothes, though. If a kid is old enough to go to school, he can make his bed. Setting the table, unloading and loading the dishwasher, cleaning the toilet and washing dishes are other chores that can be completed by anyone at least seven years old.

Will they do an excellent job? Not if you don’t teach them the right way to do it. This doesn’t involve yelling at them to rewash the dishes if you find a dirty spot. It means the parent stands beside them demonstrating how to do the chore correctly.

I think one chore per day is plenty for younger kids. By the time they’re teenagers, they think they should be free to do what they want. Sure, once they finish a list that involves a few more chores. And their homework.

After all, who’s going to do their dishes when they’re adults? You? It’s in everybody’s best interest for them to learn how to do basic housework.

How do we earn money? By working. Sure, it might be sitting at a desk or driving a truck, but whatever your job, you must be industrious. The harder you work, the more valued you are to your employer (or should be – another rant altogether here).

Responsibility

Finger pointing abounds. This is because no one wants to accept responsibility when things go wrong.

It’s a major flaw in “free” society. Every person needs to carry their weight. Imagine society as a huge wheel and every person is a spoke. Break a few off, and the wheel is too weak to work properly.

How do you teach your child to be responsible? You give them a set of chores and forfeit their rights to do anything else until they’ve done them. And done them to a satisfactory standard.

Lack of responsibility hurts everyone around you. It makes a person undependable and disloyal. Who will trust them with the smallest task if they are irresponsible?

Schools are designed to build this trait into children. What a student is responsible for increases as they age. In kindergarten, they’re responsible for putting their coat and backpack in the correct cubby. By middle school, they’re responsible for that and turning in their homework when it’s due.

This doesn’t mean parents have no part in teaching this trait. Believe me, people in education can tell the parents who have let this slide.

Accountability

Another reason for all the finger pointing in our society is the lack of accountability. Being held accountable will make someone more responsible. After all, if they can do a half-hearted job on their chores and still head to the movies and a sleepover with friends, what’s the big deal?

As my kids aged, I trusted them to be accountable. “Mom, can I go to my bro’s house?”  My response: “Is your homework done? I see you didn’t sweep the kitchen yet.” After the kitchen is swept, the inquiry is issued again. “If your homework is done.”

This bit my youngest son in the hinder parts his freshman year of high school. I expected him to do his homework, study, turn things in on time. When I went to the spring conference and talked to his Spanish teacher (he had an F) and his art teacher (he had a D), his life got pretty ugly.

The thing about accountability is that the parent needs to be the party kids answer to about whether they’re meeting their responsibilities. I realized that my son had lied about his homework (actually he turned in much of it but it was subpar work).  Outside of school and church activities, his social life ended. Oh, and you can bet that included access to computer games and the internet.

Unfortunately, he didn’t get the Spanish grade up. He reaped the consequences. Grounded from technology for the summer (that was his big thing) and he had to retake the class in order to get the credit for his college applications.

People must be held accountable because there are consequences for actions and inaction. Yep, there’s plenty of whining about “life’s not fair” but the reality is, we need to learn to deal with it. Being accountable is a good start.

Respect

Biggest for last. Lack of respect in young people disturbs me. It isn’t just their disrespect toward adults. Many don’t respect property or even themselves.

Image from startnetworkingtoday.com

“You respect me and I’ll respect you.” I actually had an 8th grade student say this to me once. My reply was, “Who starts? You or me?”

The truth is respect must be mutual. One reason kids are disrespectful to adults is because they hear their parents dissing authority. No surprise when these kids turn and rail on those same parents. Remember: our kids are watching us. We are teaching them – for better or worse.

I happily respect everyone I meet. When they scorn me, I turn the other cheek. I’m an adult. I was taught to hold my tongue by a pop on the mouth when I didn’t. My husband forbade me to do this with our children.

It made teaching them when they misspoke more difficult. Nothing gets our attention more quickly than pain. Arguments and power struggles wore on me. Eventually, I won and my son’s learned I would always win. Even if we had to wait until dad got home.

Have I left any important expectations off this list? Did I misrepresent any of these items? Let’s discuss it.

What do you think? Add to the discussion here.