Who’s in Charge of Your Child’s Success?

Shifting responsibility from the parent back to the child.

Posted Oct 15, 2020

Today it seems that parents are much more involved with their children’s activities than they were a few decades ago. Parents often arrange the child’s schedule and coordinate those activities. This also extends to children's schoolwork and parents are often the ones who are reminding and cajoling their children to do their homework and study for tests.

If you’re a parent reading this, how many times have you been the one to monitor your children and remind them to get their schoolwork done? When parents take over managing their children’s activities as well as their success in school, they risk taking away a fundamental skill that children are going to need as they grow. The ability to be self-motivating and accomplish their own tasks are important skills to develop. By having parents take over these efforts, they are potentially stunting the child’s ability to be responsible and manage their own ways of accomplishing their goals. 

Think about this. When parents monitor kids and tell them when to stop watching TV or playing video games, they are disempowering their children from learning important time management skills that will aid them later in life. While parents want their children to do well and see their management of the situation as a way to help make sure their children succeed, it shifts the responsibility of accomplishing their goals away from the children and onto the parents. 

What this sometimes teaches children is that they don’t have to pay attention to getting their chores or homework done because their parents are going to tell them (often repeatedly) what they need to do. This can lead to a child who can only succeed when he or she is “pushed” by their parents. When left to their own devices, children may not know how to move forward since their parents have become the motivators for their efforts.

Contrast this with how parents used to raise children. When I was in school during the 1960s and ’70s, I was taught that the responsibility to get my schoolwork done was on me. I was not reminded to do my homework, it was just understood that I would have it done. Of course, this type of training is not instantaneous, and from an early age I was shown that I was responsible for certain duties in my household. First and foremost, I would do well in school. In this way, I was trained from an early age that I had to take the responsibility for my education and that it was expected of me to do so. I needed to know what my homework assignments were and when they were due. From the time I was a young child, I was taught that my success in school was my obligation as a member of the family. It was my “job” to make sure I succeeded in my education.

Flash forward to today. Many parents have taken over this responsibility for their children. Parents oversee homework assignments. This may seem reasonable if the child is falling behind and can’t accomplish these tasks. However, if they are given responsibility for their own success, many children will feel empowered by that responsibility. Of course, if children start to fall behind parents can step in to help. However, when children are already doing well, this added responsibility can be a significant step forward in their development.   

When responsibility shifts from the parents managing the child to the child managing him or herself, I contend that there are many possible benefits. When children don’t have the autonomy to make their own decisions that affect them, it can stifle their self-motivation and ability to make decisions.  This can cause them to grow up dependent on their parents’ supervision, which can lead to children who believe they need direction from their parents to succeed. It is this lack of self-confidence that can de-motivate children and make them unable to move forward in their lives.

This can also lead to children who do not take responsibility for their actions. They may grow up thinking others are responsible for their behavior and safety. This can potentially have them experiment with drugs, or engage in other risky behaviors due to ownership of their own choices. After all, if someone else is responsible for your well-being, let them worry about your safety. Children can grow up thinking they don’t have to be responsible for themselves because their parents are going to pick up the pieces. 

The goal of every good parent is to help prepare their children for adulthood. One of the most important things that parents can do toward that end is to prepare children to make informed, positive decisions for their lives. When parents can instill in children a sense of responsibility so they can find their own ways to accomplish their tasks, the children feel empowered and believe they can create successful futures.

It goes without saying that children can be frustrating. They often don’t listen the first time we speak (or the 23rd time we speak) and they may not want to do their homework or chores. That is why it is so important to work toward a reality where they take these things upon themselves, where they don’t have to be micro-managed. As much as they argue, children generally want to please us. They want us to be proud of them. If we are clear in what we expect of them, and create strong boundaries about those expectations, we can create a structure in the family where children accomplish their tasks because they know it is what is expected. By giving them a clear awareness of their role in the family and recognizing when they succeed, children can learn to feel empowered and take on whatever challenges come their way.