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Teaching Our Children Responsibility

Sometimes valued learning’s come out of the most unexpected circumstances. That’s what happened to me this holiday weekend. On Friday, I had minor knee surgery and planned to be laid up and spend the weekend binge watching all the shows I hear about from others (I’m not a big tv watcher). Fortunately however, I was more mobile than I expected. But after day one and seeing how being incapacitated made it a necessity for my daughters to take on more responsibilities – to be more helpful and independent, I decided that this is the way our family needs to operate moving forward.

Don’t get me wrong, for years I’ve required my children to “pitch in,” with consistent chores like making their beds, making their own school lunches, bringing their laundry down and putting their clothes away. Plus, other chores that pop up like emptying the dishwasher, taking out the garbage and setting/clearing the table. In my mind, these are tasks you do because you’re part of a family (I don’t believe in allowance for chores that simply contribute to being a part of a family).

When I wanted to take teaching my girls responsibility to the next level, I began requiring more — like expecting my daughter to call the library to put a book on hold or extend it, and calling for refills on her contacts, as well as picking them up herself when she walks into town (they have my Amex on file). These simple tasks not only teach responsibility, they also strengthen communication skills and independence. But when speaking to others about giving our kids responsibilities, in comparison I sometimes feel like the wicked stepmother.

On Saturday night though, as I sat around a fire pit with friends, I had the opposite experience. We started talking about how some of the most powerful and influential people started working as teens, often in unglamorous jobs. Some chose to work, while others were forced by their parents to get a job.

Hillary Clinton worked at a local park. Donald Trump worked at construction sites picking up empty bottles to redeem for cash. Shark Tank’s Mark Cuban (and owner of Dallas Mavericks) sold garbage bags door-to-door at age 12, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein sold snacks at Yankee Stadium. Oprah Winfrey worked at the corner grocery store. Richard Branson started breeding parakeets at age 11. Warren Buffet was a paperboy. And President Obama scooped ice-cream at Baskin-Robbins.

All of this got me to thinking how the best life experiences we can offer our children aren’t only the ones where we set them up and/or pay for them to gain valuable skills — like volunteering to stuff backpacks for kids in need, having them spend a summer during high school studying at a university, or working at an orphanage in Ecuador. Perhaps it’s when children have the responsibility of finding and keeping a job…learning how to prioritize/manage their time, take orders, follow directions, be proactive, and so much more – that they truly learn valuable skills – including the value of a dollar.

At GAALS, one of the many life skills we teach the girls is responsibility. We emphasize the importance of being responsible for themselves starting from the time they start school – like being independent, assertive and simply an advocate for themselves. These skills are particularly important in helping them get through important transitions, like moving into kindergarten or middle school. At GAALS On The Move – our workshops designed to help girls get ready for and feel comfortable with school transitions, we work on strengthening their personal and interpersonal skills. These skills will enable them to thrive in school, as well as throughout their lives.

For more details about GAALS On The Move or other GAALS programming, please contact me directly with questions. We hope to have the opportunity to work with you to empower your daughter.

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