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Raising Responsible Children

Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (October 14, 2014)

As an educator in character education, people often ask me what I think of ‘Hong Kong children’ (港孩) and the phenomenon of children being spoilt and not knowing how to do things on their own. I have to say that most children and parents I have the privilege of working with are not ‘tiger parents’ or ‘Hong Kong children’ but I have met a few in my lifetime. And when I meet such children, all I have to do is look at their parents and caregivers to understand why they are the way they are. It comes as no surprise when you see everything being done for these children. All they have to do is lift their foot and a shoe gets placed on and laces get tied; or they just have to say ‘I’m hungry’ and the chef, helper and driver get mobilized to cook, pack and deliver a hot meal instantly!

The problem with such a phenomenon is that these children will continue growing up not knowing how to make decisions for themselves or how to take care of themselves and others, which is a worrying thought since they are our future leaders.

But my outlook is optimistic and I believe that every child has the potential to be a junior excellent member of society and a leader of their generation. One core character trait of such a person is responsibility – the ability to be responsible for himself or herself, to be responsible to others and also for their world.

Personally Responsible

Learning to be responsible starts from the little things on a personal level. It starts from having toddlers put their toys away, having children pack their own schoolbags and teenagers managing their own time schedules. It starts from taking care of one’s personal belongings, commitments and time.

As parents, we need to look at the bigger picture and the long-term vision for our children. Yes, it’s faster for you to get out of the house today if you pack your child’s schoolbag so he doesn’t leave books he needs at home but in 10 years time, your teenage child won’t know how to pack the things he needs for his exam. In 20 years time, he won’t know how to pack for a business trip he needs to go on.

Some responsibility-building ideas:

  • Create a ‘Responsibility Chart’ together of things that your child needs to be responsible for and tally daily progress

  • Give your child something he or she needs to take care of every day to see the growth of; for example, a plant or a pet

Relationally Responsible

A sense of responsibility goes beyond being personally responsible but extends to be responsible to others. Children must recognise that they are relational beings and being in this world means interacting with others. Being relationally responsible includes being responsible for the promises one makes to others and even in taking care of people. For example, students have to be responsible for their part of a team project because it affects the whole team and older siblings are responsible for taking care of their younger siblings.

Some responsibility-building ideas:

  • Have your child participate in team activities that require a responsibility to others, such as playing in an orchestra or building a Lego model together

  • Give your child opportunities to take care of others, including younger children or elderly

Environmentally Responsible

Beyond being responsible for oneself and others, we have a greater calling to be responsible for the world we live in. The world we have is the only one we have and we have a responsibility to protect and preserve it. If we don’t start teaching our children to take care of the world they now live in, it’s a grim future for the world they will live in when they are older. We need to raise up children that are aware of the issues in the world and will take on active leadership in making a difference.

Some responsibility-building ideas:

  • Go on family outings to clean the beach or plant a tree

  • Read about plants and animals in the world that need a home to live in

  • Have recycle bins inside the house and have children separate their rubbish to put into the appropriate bins

  • As a family, brainstorm ways to help the environment by making small changes at home, such as taking showers and not baths, turning off lights and electronic items when leaving a room, taking public transport and not wasting food

  • Read ‘green’ books such as 10 Things I Can Do to Help My World by Melanie Walsh and the ‘Why Should I?’ book series by Jen Green

  • Take on school projects that advocate or implement environmental changes such as a walkathon for a green cause

As educators and parents, our responsibility is to educate and equip these future leaders with a sense of responsibility that will help them fare well personally, relationally and for them to take care of the world they live in. After all, our children of today are our leaders of tomorrow.


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