Raising Responsible Children

Chores have strengthened the family's bonds, says Jake. The family dishwasher broke, forcing the family to temporarily do the dishes by hand. "At first it was, 'Oh, man, it's just more work because there's a whole bunch of dishes to wash.' And after a while it got to be fun," Jake says. "It just got to a point where we could laugh and tell jokes and talk about stuff that we needed to talk about that we didn't have time to talk about."

Tips for Raising Responsible Children

Here are some experts' tips for raising responsible children:

As children get older, parents need to realize that teens are hard-wired to take risks, says Stephen Wallace, chairman of SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions/Students Against Drunk Driving). But these risks don't need to involve alcohol, drugs or unsafe sex — although Wallace says many parents consider that inevitable. He calls that the "myth of inevitability." He sees opportunities for positive risk taking. He's still researching this, but sees anecdotal evidence that activities beyond the normal menu are most effective. Some of his examples: helping to build a library for children in Zimbabwe, mountain climbing, starting a community program for the homeless or getting involved in a project working with the elderly.

You don't have to do it alone, says James Morris, past president of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (www.aamft.org) and assistant professor of marriage and the family at Texas Tech University. He considers the idea of two parents (or often even one) raising children alone is actually new and relatively unnatural. Anthropologically speaking, clans or extended families raised children, he says. So parents need to create their own little village for their children. That could be church or synagogue or an informal group of like-minded families. At the very least, it means knowing your kids' friends and meeting their parents.

Be clear with children about what you expect from them. "So often we assume that our kids will absorb or somehow know the right choices," says Doe, when in reality, parents haven't been specific enough. A family should have a philosophy of how it does things as a team to give children a framework for their lives. Then, within that overarching framework, parents have to make it clear that they're responsible for their chores, remembering their lunch or their homework. And if a child forgets, let them feel the consequences, she says.

Having kids help with chores makes great sense on paper but is often accompanied by such time-consuming resistance that parents end up doing it themselves. Tackle it in increments. Give kids a chore list to check off (try www.listorganizer.com for sample lists). Start small with younger kids; add responsibilities as they get older. Or, if you're just introducing them to older kids, add them incrementally. Most parents underestimate children's capability to do chores says Elizabeth Pantley, author of Perfect Parenting and Kid Cooperation(read her helpful chore strategies at http://library.adoption.com/Teaching-and-Training-Children/Should-My-Kids-Do-Chores/article/1862/1.html).

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