The following is part of a series of articles on the rights and responsibilities of children and of families. On our site, we’ve published a Children’s Bill Of Rights, with all of the sections in the bill. You can take a look at Children’s Bill of Rights.
(To read more about the Children’s Bill of Rights, look at articles at this site, and at Homeschool Under Siege.)
As you may have noticed, what we’ve been discussing since early March is not just a “Bill of RIGHTS” for children. It is a “Children’s Bill of Rights & RESPONSIBILITIES”.
Responsibilities and rights go hand in hand. Oh, it is entirely possible and even common to have one without the other, but the results are very poor when that happens.
Responsibility without rights or authority is a formula for ineffectiveness, failure and personal madness. A person given a job to do but without the authority to actually do it is not only going to fail, but he’s going to go bonkers asking repeatedly for permission to do some part of what he has been ordered to do. There are many bosses in business who operate this way. They’re bad bosses.
It is not different in the home, where parents are “the boss”. Giving directives to a child such as “clean your room”, without providing in the same breath the right for him to do so as he can and as he wishes, is a waste of breath. Giving someone the responsibility to act without authority and the freedom to act, will almost always end in either a disgruntled, unhappy “employee” or child, and a job poorly done.
The other side of this coin? Rights with no responsibilities attached are a formula for anarchy. Freedom without production is chaos. In a civilization where many millions of human beings live close together and share the common goal of group survival, a lack of responsibility can lead to disaster such as the French Revolution. The French aristocracy took no responsibility for the poor prior to the revolution – they cared only for their own freedoms and pleasures. The revolutionaries took no responsibility for the aristocrats when they marched them to the guillotine.
It is, again, no different in the home. A child with many freedoms and with no responsibilities will be unproductive at best. He may well be self-involved, lazy and spoiled. Such children rarely grow up to be useful to others, or even to themselves. No one demanded that they be useful. They may have never learned that it was a good thing to be productive.
So far as I can see, there is only one safe route to walk when it comes to rights and responsibilities, and this is as true of children as it is of adults. That is the “middle road” upon which one has responsibilities, and one also has the freedoms and rights needed to carry out those responsibilities in good time and good order. But to walk this road, one must willingly accept the rights and responsibilities available. One may even have to carve a few more from the hard, rough mountain off the road side.
In our Children’s Bill of Rights & Responsibilities, we have placed in red below each right, the responsibility that would seem to go with that designated right. Each right comes with its own responsibilities. These are responsibilities that children can understand and live up to.
What do we want for our children? Well, sane parents certainly long to see their children grow up to become effective, happy adults. We love it when our children accomplish things, particularly on their own steam. It is a wonderful thing when a child demonstrates to himself and to others that he has ideas, is productive, and is of ever-increasing value to himself and others.
These sorts of results can occur when a child assumes responsibility. The child may be creating a work of art or doing a school assignment. He may be cleaning his room or reading a book. Whatever he is doing, if he takes full responsibility and has the authority to do the job, he is likely to succeed.
Again, though, willingness is everything. A parent might be very tempted to look at the list of children’s responsibilities that we provide and start to calculate how they might be enforced. Well, they can’t be enforced. You can try, and the result will very likely be a lot of anger on both sides, and some real and deep heartache. I’ve seen this be the case in numerous families. Children accosted by such attempts to control often leave home young. Parents who do a lot of enforcing are not demonstrating much trust or respect for their children. And they are often mystified when their children seem not to like them much. They often blame the child. When they are “disrespected” or “disobeyed”, they withdraw support as a sort of last attempt to regain control. But what such parents don’t get is that they never had any control of their child.
Children are human beings, and they were not put here to be controlled. They are not machines, or pets. Each child, given a decent ratio of responsibility and freedom, a healthy helping of love, support and respect, will accomplish wonderful things that we, as families and a society, may be very proud of. And when we see such results, we will know that we, as parents and as adults, did our job well.
Next article, we’ll get into specific responsibilities children should consider willingly accepting.