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How to raise responsible kids?

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I have read your advice on handling "power struggles" with young children. I do have a question for you, if a child is trained to always be allowed to make the choices in their life, how do they adapt to work situations where there are very few choices? I work with many young ladies who struggle with that very concept. The upcoming generation has a very low work ethic because they were always allowed to decide things in thier lives but now a boss tells them what to do and they do not like it!


Young adults -- and also older adults! -- who get into power struggles with their bosses are a perfect example of what happens when child-raisers get into power struggles with kids. Kids who have to fight to assert their individuality and independence keep fighting later in life, even when it's not appropriate. Kids who are allowed to make appropriate decisions early in life -- "Do you want to wear the green shirt or the red shirt?" "Today is Saturday so you need to clean up your room. Do you want to do it before lunch or right after?" -- don't have to reflexively assert their own will, because they have been allowed to develop it throughout their childhood. Research shows that they are actually more cooperative with their parents, and also with their later coworkers and bosses.

If you talk to someone who doesn't like being "bossed" around, they can usually tell you stories about being bossed around by parents or caretakers early in life. Often, they rebel as soon as they get big enough not to be controlled physically, and the parents will tell you they "gave up" and let their headstrong kid make her own decisions. But if the parents had not over-controlled the kids as toddlers and preschoolers, those kids would be more cooperative right through adolescence and into adulthood.

As far as having a low work ethic, I think that's another question. All kids need an opportunity to contribute to family life, and to learn that any job worth doing is worth doing well. That means every job, from sweeping a floor to cooking a meal, makes the world a better place and is worth taking pride in.

In our culture, though, we no longer equate hard work with creating value or a good life. Most young people don't ever get the valuable experience of working hard to create something they value, don't take responsibility for fixing things they see that are wrong, don't think of themselves as able to make a difference, and therefore don't aspire to making the world a better place. That, of course, is a value that parents are responsible for passing on to their kids.

But our schools also often fail our young people by turning them off to learning, so kids enter the work world without enough education to aspire to a stimulating job, and then find themselves struggling with a work situation that offers them few choices and little fulfillment. Since they haven't yet learned that hard work could be their ticket out of such a situation, they chafe at it instead. I wonder if that's what you're describing.
Dr. Laura

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Dr. Laura Markham is the author of three best-selling books

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