Social Responsibility: Why ‘should’ and ‘ought’ are not dirty words for parents.

January 18, 2015 Published by

The number of parents who feel disempowered and frustrated with their offspring’s lack of commitment, perseverance or responsibility is rising. This has lead me to do some research to try to explain why this might be happening and what, if anything we should do about it.

We are living in a world where individuality and the rights of the individual are prized and prioritised, but we’re social animals and no other social species operates in this way. All other creatures in the animal kingdom have a system that relies on reciprocity and common goals.

So why are we so different – and what’s changed over the last few decades? Let’s just reflect on a few things currently occurring in the UK:

  • Increased mental health issues in children (1 in 4 children report anxiety or stress related conditions)
  • Complaints from employers that young people today aren’t ‘up to the job’ and seem work shy
  • Increased isolation in the elderly population
  • Increased parental anxiety and stress
  • Increased reports of behavioural issues in schools
  • Low levels of well-being and happiness compared with other developed nations

All of these observations may be factors of the overly egocentric way we allow our children to develop. Of course it’s important to respect your children and listen to them, love them and accept them for who they are, but it’s also important to teach them how to function successfully in their family, community and wider society, and social responsibility or ‘duty’ plays a part in that.

The win-win factor here is that it’s actually good for children to learn to put other people’s needs above their own at times, or to do things for the greater good. This is one part of the therapy for various mental health issues – get involved in your community, do good for others and you’ll feel better about yourself.

My advice is figure out what is important to you, your family and your community and help your child learn the pleasure of giving – whether it’s your time to visit an elderly relative, your skills to create something of benefit, or your resources to share with others to nurture relationships. It is good to expect children to step out of their comfort zone, get off the sofa, switch off their screens and do something for the benefit of others.

That all sounds a little idealistic and it can be difficult to know where to start, but it needn’t be daunting. Parents can start this approach even with young children. Helping around the house is something that almost every other generation of children were expected to do and not because parents were lazy. It creates a sense of belonging, pride in your home and an opportunity for bonding. All of this adds to a child’s feeling of self worth and promotes a positive mind set (not to mention the fact that they are learning valuable skills that they will need as they grow up).

Parents are the most powerful role models for young children so let them see you doing something for others too. Try:

  • helping a neighbour with their shopping
  • taking time to have a chat and a cuppa with an elderly friend or relative
  • baking a meal for a new mum
  • volunteering in your local community centre.

Obviously children are individuals and have differing needs, as do all people, so there may be some things that one child can be expected to do for others that may not be appropriate for another child. But if everyone adopted the ‘Give what you can, take what you need’ approach, I believe we’d all be a lot happier and healthier.

There’s lots of ways you can demonstrate how to ‘do your duty’ and promote community spirit and general well-being. Feel free to find the way that suits you. Children are naturally quite egocentric and they need guidance from you, so don’t be afraid to use words like should or ought to your children, it won’t erode their individuality, but it might just help them life more fulfilling, meaningful lives.

 

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This post was written by Amanda Gummer

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