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 Parenting Press®

Looking at Values:


Parenting Press conducted a poll in March 2000 to ask respondents what values they most desired in children. This is a discussion of one of the top ten values identified.

Thinking About Responsibility

Definition: To assume accountability for something being done or not; to be accountable for an event
Behavior reflecting
the value:
As he becomes a responsible member of society he is able to take care of his basic needs and enter into the life of the community. As he grows up, he will learn to complete his homework on time, get to school on time, and clean up his room, among other responsibilities.
Knowledge and
skills needed:
To be able to be responsible requires the desire to be so, knowledge of what is expected, and ability to meet those expectations. For example, for him to be responsible for his clothes means he needs to know what is appropriate to wear when, how to put his clothes on, what clothes he needs, how to shop for them, and how to take care of them (washing, dry cleaning, mending). Whatever the responsibility, much knowledge and many skills are needed.
Insights about the
First, identify what you want him to be responsible for. Then analyze what knowledge and skills he needs to be responsible for that area. It is quite unfair to expect a child to be responsible for getting himself ready to go somewhere, for example, if he does not know how to put his shoes on the right feet, button his clothes, or comb his hair.
Value present
at birth?

Teaching or Preserving Responsibility


List the areas you want him to be responsible for in adulthood. Then analyze each of those areas to see what knowledge and skills he will need to fulfill your expectations. For each area of responsibility, decide at what age you expect him to acquire which information and skills. Clearly, some areas of responsibility require more learning and skills, and therefore time, than others.

The acquiring of knowledge and skills in regard to clothes and dressing at different stages outlined below is based on a responsibility one can assume of a child in adulthood, namely, the ability to dress himself and to choose and care for his clothes. Following the analysis of this value is an analysis of what teenagers need to know to be safe, independent drivers.

Baby: A baby's first responsibility is to learn when he is cold or hot and protest his discomfort. At around four to six months, he will begin to help by putting his arms into sleeves or legs into pants. Reinforce this skill by thanking him and telling him in words what he has just done.
Toddler: A toddler can choose which pants to wear, the blue or the yellow (the dress pants are not offered). He can indicate if he is hot or cold and therefore needs more or less clothing. He can continue to help more with dressing himself and is usually quite capable of undressing himself.
Preschooler: He can choose his clothes. Talk about appropriate clothes for specific occasions. He can dress himself except for the difficult parts, such as getting shoes on the right feet and tying them. He can learn how to get jackets, mittens, and hats on.
School age: By this time, he can dress himself and most likely is choosing the clothes he wants to wear with some comment from you. He is able to run the washing machine and wash his own clothes if you want him to. He can shop with you to learn about prices, costs of popular clothes (brands), and about comfort and durability.
Teenage: A teenager should be able to take care of his clothes, decide what is appropriate to wear, and use good judgment in buying clothes.

Influences on Learning Responsibility
Needs: The drive to be accepted and/or loved and to have self-esteem may motivate him to be responsible.


Children who are easily distracted have trouble following through on tasks. They may become interested in a book while cleaning their room and hours later be found reading while the room is still a mess. Young children who are distractible may dawdle while dressing, causing the whole family to be late getting out of the house.

A child who has a somber (pessimistic) mood can make you feel guilty for setting expectations. You need to be aware of such a reaction and deal with it if you want to stick to the value of responsibility. Remember, too, that he is not "manipulating" you, it is just how he sees life.

Learning style: If he is a visual learner, make charts and pictures to remind him of what he is supposed to do.

Reflections about Responsibility
Influence of other
For the sake of his healthy self-esteem, be careful to set expectations that are within reach (some stretching is desirable) and structure them so that he can succeed. Be careful not to call him names or apply labels if he fails.
New thinking
resulting from
Analyzing responsibility shows that parents need to think long-term, rather than short-term for a child. It is natural to want him to be responsible for things now, such as toys, clothes, and general mess. However, there are so many skills to learn in order to be able to be responsible. He will learn some skills by watching what you do at home; you will have to teach him other skills quite deliberately.

Adapted from Using Your Values to Raise Your Child to Be an Adult You Admire by Harriet Heath, Ph.D.

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Responsible Car Use for Independent Driving

(Reprinted with permission from Elizabeth Crary, © 1998)

Legal requirements

  • Obtain a learner's permit, and then a driver's license.
  • Have car insurance.


  • Understand and apply all rules of the road.
  • Be able to drive to a new place using a map.
  • Locate himself on the map (as if lost) and drive to a new place.
  • Create a plan to handle emergencies (flat tire, out of gas, dead battery, accident).
  • Know how to use emergency items stored in car (car jack, battery cables, flares).
  • Know what to do in case of accident (stay at the scene, provide evidence of license and car insurance, get names, addresses and phone numbers of witnesses, refrain from discussing accident with anyone except police officer, get word to parents).


  • Demonstrate ability to drive in these conditions (5 to 20 hours of practice):
    • night
    • snow
    • rain
    • fog
    • city
    • mountain
    • freeway
    • rush hour
    • 2-lane road
  • Demonstrate auto maintenance skills:
    • Change flat tire.
    • Check oil, transmission, power steering, brake, water, windshield cleaning fluid levels.
    • Check tire pressure.
    • Read and understand gauges on car dash.
    • Be aware of changes in sound or feel of car that can indicate a problem brewing.


  • Discuss appropriate and inappropriate driving behavior.
  • Schedule car use with family.
  • Have agreement with parents about giving rides to other people.
  • Decide how repairs are paid for if teenager is at fault.
  • Decide what share teenager takes for cost of insurance, gas, and oil, if any.
  • Determine under what conditions driving privileges are revoked.
  • Schedule intervals to review and update driving agreement with parents.

Understanding the big picture

  • Know the extra cost to add a teenager (especially a male under age 25) to a car insurance policy.
  • Figure out the average cost of repairs per month and per mile driven.
  • Figure out the average cost of gas and oil per month and per mile driven.
  • Determine costs of ownership, registration, licensing, emissions inspections for one year.

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Last updated May 05, 2008