Developing Responsibility and Resiliency in Our Children

Our goal as parents is to have our kids grow up with responsibility and resiliency so they can leave our home. How can we accomplish that?

As the years go by, I have seen very bright kids struggle with life and average intelligence kids thrive. I often think about how parents could help their kids grow into independent adults or hinder that growth by trying to be a good parent. Good intentions aren’t always the best way to do things, and sometimes the best parents sit back and let kids figure it out themselves. In the end, our goal as parents is to have our kids grow up with responsibility and resiliency so they can leave our home. Our desire to keep kids safe can seem to conflict with the need to let them grow up.

Is it safe?

So often parents attempt to keep their kids safe in the moment, but don’t consider what long the term implications are.

Parents want to keep their kids safe under their wings, at home or in a supervised activity. If their child is not directly in sight, they are at least within reach of a cell phone for immediate access.

Cell phone for “safety”

I often hear that parents buy a phone for their kids “for safety” purposes, but studies are showing the opposite. Cell phones lead to many dangerous situations for young kids and tweens. Smartphone use is associated with anxiety, depression, poor sleep, and more.

Bullying has always been a problem, but now it is more widespread. Kids can’t even escape in their own home due to social media.

Screen time takes away from playing outside, which contributes to obesity.

Smartphones also decrease the time spent interacting with people in real life and getting tasks accomplished. When kids spend excessive time communicating with their friends through apps, they miss out on real interactions that can help develop important social skills. Although it’s not a diagnosis yet, screen behaviors seem to be very addictive. Limiting time can become difficult when kids always carry a device.

Screens interfere with sleep. Sleep is critical to a growing brain and body, so sleep deprivation leads to many problems.

Inappropriate material is easily accessible online. Kids learn how to starve themselves and get encouragement for unhealthy behaviors. They share challenges that are very dangerous. Pornography and sex trafficking are huge issues.

Look into the Wait Until 8th movement for reasons to wait until 8th grade to give your child a smartphone. Gain support from other parents when your child says they’re the “only one” without one. Even teens recognize the problem.

Being out and about

If you never let your child visit a friend’s home or play outside, they will learn to be afraid outside their own home.

Many parents are afraid to let their kids walk to school. Realistically it’s a low risk that their child will become abducted, but a very real risk that the loss of exercise will impact their long-term health.

It’s rare in many neighborhoods to see kids outside playing. Some may be inside unable to go out because parents aren’t home. Others prefer to play video games. There are many at structured after school activities, which don’t allow for child-driven play and problem solving. If other kids aren’t out playing, the incentive for your kids isn’t there to go outside. It isn’t as fun to play alone. Talk to your neighbors to find times that their kids will be home and encourage outdoor fun at that time. This helps to build your neighborhood into a community!

Dr. Peter Gray shows how the decline of free play is directly correlated with dramatically increasing rates of anxiety, depression, suicide, and narcissism in children and adolescents. He discusses why free play is essential for children’s healthy social and emotional development. He also offers suggestions of how we can make this happen while keeping our kids safe. Take 15 minutes to watch it.

Playing sports

As Dr. Gray mentions, it’s the free play that seems to be important to help our kids develop resiliency.

Our kids consider sports their “play” time, but sports are directed by adults. Kids don’t learn what they need to learn about creativity, self motivation, problem solving, and all the other skills learned by kid-directed and kid-initiated play.

Overprotected kids

An article that I read years ago still resonates with me. The Overprotected Kid shows how parents try so hard to keep their kids safe that we sometimes prevent them from learning about real life.

The article is based on allowing kids to roam and play with things that haven’t been engineered to keep them safe. In our litigious society, that seems excessively dangerous to some. There are even stories of parents being turned into authorities for allowing their kids unsupervised time outside or even taking public transportation to school.

In my opinion, too many parents worry that kids aren’t safe when unsupervised. They forget what dangers lurk in too much supervision.

Where’s the right balance?

Building Snowmen from Snowflakes

Dr. Tim Elmore is a recognized speaker and author who focuses on building the next generation. Here’s an excerpt from his post, How to Build Snowmen from a Snowflake Generation:

Too often, our young give up due to “learned helplessness.” This happens, however, in both a surprising and sinister fashion. It’s all about control. Studies reveal that when the activities in their day are controlled by adults (and hence, not in their control), both their angst and hopelessness rise. The more we govern and prescribe the agenda, the less they feel hopeful and the more they feel helpless.

Further, learned helplessness promotes irresponsibility. Kids feel little responsibility to work because it’s “not up to them.” I believe most middle class students assume that if they make a mistake, some adult will swoop in and rescue them. While this may feel good, it hinders development. Feeling that outcomes are in their control gives them a greater sense of hope and ownership.

Established generations must slowly encourage and even insist on giving them control of the “agenda.” This is the only way to build ownership, engagement and responsibility. It requires trust and flexibility, since young people may not perform to our standards. We must decide what we want most: perfection or growth.

He goes on to say:
What message do you suppose it sends a student when the adults in his life continue to swoop in and save him whenever something goes wrong? While it may feel good at first, it communicates: “We don’t think you have it in you to solve this problem. You need an adult to help you.” Consequently, these young people don’t feel like adults themselves until somewhere between ages 26-29. They can remain on their parents’ insurance policy until age 26. In one survey, young adults reported they believe adult-life begins with “having their first child.” Today, this doesn’t happen until long after 18 years old. So while we give them the right to vote, they may have no concept of reality. Rights without responsibilities creates virtual adults and often, spoiled brats.
Teaching children responsibility is like teaching them to ride a bike. Offer less support and finally let go.

Growth Mindset

Did you know that success is not determined by intelligence? Our mindset, grit, and resilience are more predictive of success.

The good news is that we can all learn to have a growth mindset, which is a great start to becoming resilient. See my sister blog for more information on How to Get a Growth Mindset.

Success is correlated with a growth mindset more than intelligence. So how do you get it? It's not as difficult as you might think.
How to get a growth mindset.

Home alone? Is your child ready?

Parents often wonder when it’s okay to let their kids stay home alone. There is no easy answer to this question. Many states, including Kansas, do not have a specific age allowable by law. The Department for Children and Families suggests that children under 6 years never be left alone, children 6-9 years should only be alone for short periods if they are mature enough, and children over 10 years may be left alone if they are mature enough. (For state specific rules, check your state’s Child Protection Services agency.)

Growing up

Is your child ready to stay home alone?
Is your child ready to stay home alone?

Staying home alone is an important part of growing up. If a child is supervised at all times throughout childhood and the teen years, he won’t be able to move out on his own.

This might be the case if there is a developmental delay or behavioral problems that make it not safe for that person to be alone.

The age at which kids are able to be alone varies on the child and the situation. Parents must take many things into account when considering leaving a child alone.

Maturity of the child.

Age does not define when kids are ready to stay home alone. You must consider how responsible and independent they are.

Does your child know what to do if someone knocks at the door? Can they prepare a simple meal? Do they follow general safety rules, such as not wrestling with a sibling or jumping on the trampoline unsupervised? Will your child be scared alone? Do they know how to call you (or 911) in case of problems or a true emergency? Are they capable of understanding activities that are dangerous and need to be avoided when unsupervised?

Readiness.

Is your child asking for the privilege of being left alone or are they afraid to be alone?

Forcing a child who is afraid to stay alone can be very damaging. Only allow kids to stay alone if they want to and are capable of the responsibility.

Behavior.

Some kids are typically rule followers. Others are not. If your child has problems following rules while supervised, he is not ready to be left alone.

Dangers are more likely to come if kids are risk takers and cannot control their behaviors. House fires, hurt pets, physical fights among siblings, kids wandering the neighborhood, and online behaviors that put kids at risk are but a few ways kids who don’t follow rules can get hurt.

Even if kids used to be able to be unsupervised, things change. If you think a child or teen is depressed, using drugs or there are other concerns, it might not be safe any longer to leave them unsupervised.

Number of children and their ages.

Kids can supervise younger siblings as long as they are mature enough and the dynamics between the two allow for it.

Two kids of similar ages can keep each other company if they are able to be responsible alone and not fight.

Some children can stay alone, but are not yet ready to take care of younger siblings. If they can do it when parents are home, they might be ready for unsupervised babysitting.

In Kansas kids must be 11 years of age to watch non-siblings, but there is no law for siblings. Leaving an 11 year old alone with a baby is much different than leaving the 11 year old in charge of a school aged child!

You must know your kids and their limitations.

Left alone or coming home to an empty house?

When you leave kids home, you can first be sure doors are locked and kids are prepared.

If they will be coming home to an empty house (such as after school), there are a few more things to consider. Will they be responsible to keep a house key? Is there an alternate way in (such as a garage code)? Do they know how to turn off the house alarm if needed? How will you know they made it home safely?

Pets.

If there are pets in the home, is your child responsible to help care for them? Can they let the dog out? Will they be allowed to take the dog for a walk? Do they have to remember to feed the pets?

It’s not just your child’s abilities when there are pets involved. Your pet’s temperament makes a difference. Does your pet have a good nature around the kids?

Neighborhood.

Where you live makes a difference. Do you live on a quiet cul-de-sac or a busy street? In a single family home or an apartment building? Do you have a trusted neighbor that your child can call in case of emergency? Is there a neighbor that your child seems to be afraid of? Are there troublemaker kids down the street?

If you don’t know neighbors what can your child do if there is a problem?

Will they go outside?

You’ll have to set ground rules about leaving the house, which will vary depending on the situation.

Is your child allowed to go outside when you’re not home and under what conditions ~ with a group of kids, with your big dog, on foot only or on a bike, daylight/dark, etc?

If they can go outside who do they tell where they are going and when they will return? Are there area limitations of where they can go? Run through scenarios of what to do if someone they don’t know (or feel comfortable with) tries to talk to them.

Do all the kids play outside after school with a stay at home mom supervising? If you will allow your child to go out expecting that the other parent will be there, be sure to talk with that other parent first to be sure it is okay — the parent might not want that responsibility.

Baby Steps.

Gradual increases in time alone are helpful.

Start by doing things in the home where you tell kids you don’t want to be disturbed for 30 minutes unless there’s an emergency. Let them know it is practice for staying home alone to show responsibility. When they do well with that, try going to a neighbor’s house briefly. If they do fine with that short time alone with you in close proximity, take a quick run to the store. Gradually make the time away a bit longer.

Time of day.

Start with trips during daylight hours when they don’t need to make any meals.

Only leave kids alone when dark outside if they are not scared and they know what to do if the power goes out, such as use flashlights, not candles.

Overnight stays alone are generally not recommended except for the very mature older teen. And then you must think about parties or dates visiting…

List of important things.

Make sure kids have a list of important phone numbers. They should have an idea of where you are and when you’ll be back. What should they do if they have a problem? List expectations of what should be done before you get back home.

Are there any no’s?

While it is impossible to list every thing your child should not do when you’re not home, make sure they know ones that are important to you. Having general house rules that are followed are helpful to avoid the “I didn’t know I couldn’t…” Think about how much screen time they can have, internet use, going outside, cooking, etc. Are they allowed to have friends over? Can they go to a friend’s house if their parents are home? What if those parents aren’t home? Some kids might be ready for unsupervised time at these activities, others not.

Emergencies.

Go over specifics of what to do if …

  • fire
  • electricity goes out
  • someone calls the house
  • a friend wants to come over
  • they are hungry
  • there’s a storm outside
  • they spill food or drink

Quiz them on these type of topics.

Do they know what the tornado alarm sounds like and what to do if it goes off? And do they know the testing times so they aren’t afraid unnecessarily?

Can they do simple first aid in case of injuries? Discuss the types of things they can call you about– if they call several times during a short stay alone, they aren’t ready!

Supervise from afar.

When kids are first home alone, you can call to check in on them frequently. Tell a trusted neighbor that you will be starting to leave your child home alone and ask if it is okay for kids to call them if needed.

Ask how things went while you were gone. Did any problems arise? What can be done to prevent those next time?

Internet.

Internet safety deserves several posts on its own since there are so many risks inherit to kids online.

Be sure you know how to set parental controls if your kids have internet access. Review all devices (computers, smart phones, tablets, etc) for sites visited on a regular basis.

Talk to your kids about what to do if they land on a site that scares them or if someone they don’t know tries to chat or play with them online. Be sure they know to never give personal information (including school name, team name, game location and time, etc) to anyone on line.

If they play games online, remind them to only play with people they know in real life. Do your kids know how to change settings so that the location of photos cannot be tracked through GPS?

home alone.

At some point kids will need to be independent, so work on helping them master skills that they need for life. This includes learning to stay home alone.