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How Do You Raise a Responsible Human?

Helping kids grow into admirable adults

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This is a question, as an educator, I have so often pondered.

How do we, as a collective village comprised of parents and teachers and coaches and mentors, raise students with an innate sense of responsibility—for self, for others, and for their surroundings? How do we walk the paths trodden by matriarchs like Alberta Williams King, or Alicia Chavez, or Celia Bader? How do we replicate the empathy, compassion, ingenuity, and strength cultivated in the hearts and minds of their children? Children who grew into pillars of tolerance and justice—the warriors of advocacy and peace.

How, in this virtual world we’ve erected where YouTube is our reality and emojis relay our feelings? We subsist in an ever-shifting culture that now so often indemnifies hate and the hijinks of hypocrites—where the self-worth of our kids is aligned with the number of followers they have and the amount of likes they receive.

How do we raise a responsible human?

A leader who is willing to use their voice as a rallying cry for the underserved.

A visionary who is willing to swim upstream in an effort to stand for justice.

A thought-partner to ingenuity and an erector of peace.

It’s never been easy—for most leaders rise from the ashes of oppression to assume their place in history as those to whom we look for guidance. Their roads to championship were paved with heartache and hiccups, situations and circumstances which surely refined their vision, integrity, and voracity. They had to experience hardship in order to identify their calling—to be both a voice and a cornerstone in doing that which is right.

I’ve been in education for quite some time now, and while so much has changed across its landscape during my tenure, one resounding downward trend that has only gained momentum year after year is the staving of discomfort for our kids. Photoshop and filters, vacation photos on white sandy beaches strewn across meticulously cultivated Facebook pages and Instagram profiles have led us to fear anything flawed. The mindset that pain and consequence are negative has overshadowed the insight that leads us to recognize that pressure cultivates diamonds and fire refines gold.

So, grades are challenged and teachers are called out on the carpet for poor test scores. Coaches are scorned for lost games, and hobbies are abandoned at-will when it becomes too hard or a child feels the slightest disinterest.

I’ve known parents to reward a tantrum by doling out ice cream and extra video game minutes. Watched them staunchly defend their kiddos in situations where they were clearly in the wrong. Had them go on the attack over grades given that honestly reflected their student’s poor performance or lack of effort. Phones kept in their kids’ possession despite a social media indiscretion.

Why? Most likely, because mom or dad or grandma or guardian, didn’t want to have to play the heavy.

Believe me—I get it. As a former middle school teacher and now principal, having to be the heavy in most circumstances was written into the job description. The role and responsibility of an educator comes with the understanding that there will be times when our students don’t like us. Times when they hate our guts and scoff at every assignment given, every project assessed, and every consequence levied for a poor decision made.

But, the honest truth is that in almost every circumstance, my students became better versions of themselves. A bad test score led to a change in their study habits or engagement in class. Getting caught for an inappropriate post on social media made them think twice about the content they put on the internet. Losing their basketball game or volleyball championship stung, but they then understood how to practice and refine their skills to be better next time.

And, they learned how to give advice to their classmates or younger counterparts about avoiding said pitfalls.

In an interview with The Atlantic, Ruth Bader Ginsberg shed light on advice she received from her mother:

“Always be prepared to be self-standing, to fend for yourself.”

So, in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement, responsible kids are raised in the marches attended and conversations had around equity and advocacy. They are raised when parents and guardians enable their children to understand the plight of others—in their neighborhoods and cities—whose circumstances are very much in contrast to their own. When piano lessons become too arduous, Student Council meetings are inconvenient, and basketball practices conflict with a friend’s birthday party or anything else they’d rather be doing—our children’s sense of responsibility is nurtured as they stay true to their commitments and obligations and carry on nonetheless.

Responsible kids are shaped when we, as a collective village:

  1. Promise to hold children accountable to the bumps in the road
  2. Help them recognize that beauty resides in imperfection
  3. Refuse to simply pave their way in an effort to prevent them from seeing that life isn’t always easy 
  4. Teach kids that doing what is right is always worth it

You can find more of my tips on how to raise responsible kids at OverlyHonestTeacher.com

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