Parents of older grade schoolers or adolescents
often say their children do not appreciate the good life they have nor the
efforts their parents make. In reality, there is no particular reason why your
child should be especially grateful about the opportunities and things available
to her. After all, your child has grown up in a family environment where such
opportunities automatically are available as a member of your family. Real
appreciation can only develop over time. Appreciation develops when your adult
child realizes these things did not come easily or naturally. Also, your grade
schooler or adolescent begins to appreciate the opportunities she has in
relation to other children who have less.
As your children’s lives expand from their
involvement with the family to involvements with other groups, they gradually
learn certain rights are inherent in membership in these groups. For example,
they learn they have rights at school, such as the right to have teacher help
with problems or the right to materials and supplies. They learn they have
certain rights within relationships.
It is very important you actively help your
child learn about her rights as an individual, as a family member, as a member
of other groups, as a member of the community. For example, if your grade schooler
is refused a turn at bat because others won’t let her, you might say, “If
I were you, I would not play ball with them anymore if they are not going to
let me have a turn at bat.” Or you might suggest she say, “I have a
right to a turn at bat and insist you let me have my turn.” If your
adolescent says, “I asked my math teacher to help with a problem and he
said I should already know how to do it and he did not have time to help
me,” you might suggest she go back to the teacher and say, “Maybe I
should know how to do this problem, but I do not. It is important to me to
learn how to work these types of problems and I think you should help me. When
can you arrange a time?” In this situation, your adolescent is asserting
her right to receive help from the teacher, and in a firm yet reasonable way.
Or if your adolescent wants to use the family car, discuss the issue of her
right to the car instead of arguing about family rules.
As you consider your children and their rights,
being sure your teens are aware of their rights and insist on them in dating
and other similar situations is important. Your adolescent has a right to be
treated with gentleness and respect, not to be mistreated, a right to not be
coerced or pressured to do things he (or she) does not want to do, or be given
ultimatums or threatened. (Also, each right has
its reciprocal responsibility, e.g., to be gentle, to be respectful, and so
on.) You may be tempted to assume your youngster already knows this; but it is
another one of those conversations you and your child need to have and like
drug use, driving and drinking, sexual behavior, and other things, is a topic
you need to come back to from time to time.
Other rights frequently at issue within families
include rights to privacy, including telephone conversations, the sanctity of
rooms or things, rights to express opinions, rights to family resources such as
money or food, rights to loving relationships, to who watches what television
program, how loud the stereo can be played, and on and on. While your children
learn to respect the rights of others, they also are learning how to
responsibly assert their own rights. To use an old expression, they are
learning to stick up for themselves.
The notion of responsibilities is closely
related to the idea of rights. As your children become aware of their rights,
they also learn the rights of others need to be assured. Your grade schooler
has a new puppy and you tell him he is responsible for feeding the puppy. The
puppy then has a right to be fed. Your adolescent has a right to access to the
family car. Other family members have a right to expect the car will be used
with care. If your adolescent respects the rights of other family members and
other drivers, he is then a responsible driver. Family members have a right to
an orderly home. Each family member, thus, has a responsibility to help keep
the house neat.
Your children learn about responsibilities
through relationships and seeing other people behave responsibly. In part, your
children learn to be responsible through active teaching by you and other
adults. Your children also learn about responsibility through discussions about
the rights of others. Yes, your children learn from life experience, but they
also need to have the ideas of rights and responsibilities explained and re-
explained from a very young age.
Are your children too young to have
responsibilities when they are only two or three years old? This is, in fact, a
very good age to learn to respect the rights of others. If emphasis on rights
and responsibilities is gently initiated at a very young age, it will not be
much of a problem as your children get older.
Teaching your children about rights and
responsibilities can be overdone. Your children can assert their rights so
frequently they actually alienate everyone. Similarly, your child may become
somewhat compulsive about doing what is right. In either situation, you have
gone too far and should back off a little. The criteria of reasonableness,
appropriateness, and effectiveness governs your involvement with your children
as you teach them about rights and responsibilities.