Children’s Responsibilities – Part IIIThursday, June 7th, 2012
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 Hows & Whys.)
Let’s look at more of the rights and attendant responsibilities. I’ll again keep the comment on each of these short. Again, the right will be stated, followed by child’s responsibility in italics and in red. That will be followed by my comments.
The Right of Association
Every child has the right to have those friends and acquaintances that they wish to have, with the exception (to be used sparingly) of people the parents consider a danger to the well-being of the child. Each child has the right to pursue friendships and acquaintances as they wish, to spend time with friends, and to enjoy them. Each child has the right to expect that his family and friends will not degrade or attack his choice of friends.
You have the responsibility to select good friends who truly care for and about you. You have the responsibility to be a good friend to your friends, at least as good a friend as you wish them to be to you. You have the responsibility to make sure that your family knows about your friends. You have the responsibility to defend your friends if others say bad things about them.
Parents like to intrude into this process, and I do understand why. A child’s friends can and do have a huge influence on him. The wrong “friends” can quickly lead a child into dark and dangerous waters. What’s more, there are adults and older teens out there who most certainly do not have your child’s best interest at heart, but who might “put on a show” to win over unsuspecting and impressionable young minds and hearts. These are dangerous times for children and parents have every right, and indeed the responsibility, to protect their children.
Ok, that out of the way, it’s important for parents to differentiate between “dangerous” friends and “unlikeable” friends. As a parent, the more you intrude into your child’s friendships, the more likely it is that he will defend them. That’s his responsibility. “Dangerous” friends should be gotten rid of, certainly. But you may well not like some of your child’s friends, even though they do not represent a real danger to him. As to the “unlikeable” friends, you would be well advised to learn to live with them. You don’t have to like them – your child does.
Friendship is very important to all of us, and never more than to a child. A child may find common ground with all sorts of people, and as a parent you may not love all of his choices. But unless there is some danger involved, you should try very hard to respect them. It is the child’s responsibility, as well, to increasingly learn to make wise choices in his friendships. He is not absolved of that responsibility and when he makes patently poor choices, he forces parents to intrude. A child is further responsible for not keeping his friends a secret from the people responsible for his safety, his parents. And a parent had damned well better be worried when a child DOES choose to keep a “friend” a secret.
Remember that you want a child to grow up to have friends. If you instill terror of any and all possible friends, you are setting up your child for a life of loneliness. If you consistently remove your child from people he wishes to get to know and spend time with, you will find that he will either resist and fight back (to both of your sorrow), or accept your severe limits and grow into a distrusting misanthrope. These are both poor parenting results.
Care and nurturing
Every child has the right to be provided a safe, healthy and reasonably comfortable place to live. Every child has the right to clean water to drink and bathe in. Every child has the right to decent food decently prepared, and enough of it to not be forever hungry.
You have the responsibility to do everything needed to keep your body healthy and well. This includes bathing often, brushing teeth, eating good foods, avoiding bad foods, drinking a lot of water, getting good exercise, getting enough sleep, and anything else that you need to do to stay well. You have the responsibility to help keep your home safe and clean, especially your own rooms. You have the responsibility to (if slowly) learn how to prepare good food for yourself and for others.
Once a child hits a reasonable age, say three or four, he really must assume the principle responsibility for keeping himself clean. This is a health issue as well as a social one. He’s going to have to live with that body for a while, hopefully a good, long while. The sooner he starts to take care of it, the greater the guarantee that it will be well cared for, and in its turn serve his needs and interests.
Bodies require a fair amount of upkeep. They can be resilient and strong, but they are subject to so many woes that we need not list them here. It is clear that a person who eats well, stays away from poisons like cigarettes, drinks clean water, and who gets sufficient rest and exercise is most likely to remain reasonably healthy late into his life. The longer one is healthy, the more one can do. A lack of physical strength and health can obviously restrict the pursuit of one’s interests and dreams. In some cases, that can make a life scarcely worth living.
Also, and not to put too fine a point on it, a person who can’t manage their hygiene is going to end up a social pariah. Kids can be very cruel about such things! To some extent, one’s happiness may well be tied up in one’s ability to do right by his body.
The same can be said of one’s living space. It can be said that one’s room or house is seen by the world as an extension of the person who lives there. When we step into a dirty, ill-kept house, we assume that the people living there are not particularly hygienically inclined. This does not speak well to outsiders and may in fact represent a health hazard.
We are initially known to others by the condition of our bodies, our clothes, our possessions. These would include where we live, and a child is not exempted. When a child has his own room, he should from an early age be largely responsible for its upkeep. This will help keep him healthy, as well as speak well on his behalf to others. It will also make him more easily accepted into the family who may find it very disturbing to have a toxic waste dump smack in the middle of their home. Again, this is a key point in one’s efforts to live on good terms with others.
Play and leisure
Every child has the right to a reasonable amount of leisure (“free”) time. This time should be used as the child wishes. Every child has the right to enjoy some sort of outdoor activities and play, and as close to every day as is possible.
You have the responsibility to be smart and safe while playing. You have the responsibility to avoid hurting or injuring others or yourself while playing. You have the responsibility to play fairly using the rules of any game that you play with others.
Play is great and we all want to do it! Taking a fair degree of responsibility for the way we each play helps guarantee that play will remain fun and a viable activity. A “no responsibility attitude” toward play –a “winner take all” attitude, makes play seriously no fun. A child taught to win at all costs in every game is going to find himself playing alone.
Winning is a good thing. Just as we all want to play, we all want to win. It’s important for a child to come to grips with the idea that we ALL want to win – not just the child himself, but the people playing with and against him. The best games are those in which, in some way, everyone accomplishes something. Both sides cannot win a game, but all the people playing can feel like they were a real part of the game and accomplished something for themselves in the process. That’s a good game.
There are parents who will actually counsel their child to play a game to win at all costs – even to the injury of an opponent. Such parents are simply out of their mind. I have nothing good to say about them. They are setting up their child for a brutal, vicious and lonely existence. You see this sort of thing in Little League, Pop Warner Football, even in High School and College sports, and it’s destructive and foolish.
It’s good to win – when one wins by the rules, and plays fairly and with superior skill. Winning by cheating is a lousy way to win, and others will know what happened even if they can’t quite put their fingers on it. A child should learn early that he can win if he works hard and develops the requisite skills. That’s true in any game, including the game of life.
Getting back to the child’s freedoms, his “free” time should be exactly that. A child should be allowed to use it as he sees fit. If he wants to play baseball or study dance or build a car engine, that’s his business and parents should support his efforts. If he wants rest, he should be allowed it. If he wants to stare at the boob tube, well…I personally hate that, but it’s his free time.
It’s “free time” because he has supposedly completed his work. That means he’s earned this time off, and deserves it. It’s his free time to use it as he chooses. But this freedom does not absolve him from playing fair or from preparing for the future. As he ages, his responsibilities (and ability to meet them) should increase. To earn his “free time”, he’ll need to get more done. We adults understand this principle empirically. A child must learn it as he ages, and it’s okay for him to do so.
More to follow!