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Lessons in responsibility
michelle beran
Michelle Beran

I saw a funny post on a friend’s Facebook page recently that said “If parenthood came with a GPS, it would mostly just say ‘recalculating.’” While I had to giggle, it resonated with me as a former 4-H parent and now 4-H agent.

We talk a lot in 4-H about Experiential Learning – Learning by Doing; and having good adults to help youth by setting examples and modeling behavior. This is also much of how we learn to parent! 

It is tough to talk through a situation with your child and then watch them make a mistake in handling it. Unless it has grave consequences, it is much better for them to stub their toe while they are under our direction and guidance than to face plant as a 25- or 30-year-old because they have never been allowed to make their own decisions. Are they going to make good decisions all of the time – NOPE! But I would challenge that neither did you or I at that age.

One of my favorite youth development authors, Dr. Tim Elmore, notes in a recent article in Growing Leaders that parents can make a couple of critical mistakes when it comes to youth and responsibility.

In his opinion, the first occurs when parents take responsibility too often when we should let go. He bases this thought on a recent nationwide survey that noted “Parents help their kids in a variety of ways, and that includes financial support, event when their children grow older. Nearly half of millennials get some level of financial help from mom and dad on a monthly basis, according to a new survey released by Money Under 30.” 

I agree with Dr. Elmore that sometimes our adult children need our help but does that continued dependence on parents delay a young adult’s ability to shoulder responsibility? He goes on to state that “millions of today’s young adults are forced to delay professional goals because we’ve failed to teach them how to do without luxuries: smartphones, eating out, big TVs” – which means their life goals ... IF they have set them ... are pushed further away.

The second part of Dr. Elmore’s article also notes that parents let go of responsibility too often when we should still be taking it on and modeling appropriate behaviors. Do we expect our schools to teach money management, time management, daily living tasks such as preparing a meal, laundry, or basic car maintenance? Or, are we modeling these behaviors for our kids? Even if we are not great money managers or fantastic cooks, are we looking for resources to improve our own skills knowing that those young people are watching?

Dr. Elmore wraps up his article with a couple of great thoughts about committing to long-term thinking. He states “Let’s delegate responsibility to our young adults for their sake, so they can learn what it means to experience self-efficacy and autonomy. Let’s assume responsibility for our young adults for their sake, so they can see what it looks like to act from honor and justice.”

I see parents who are frustrated that their teens/young adults don’t seem to be responsible but this is not a skill that suddenly appears. It takes practice and some failed attempts to get better. Starting out with small responsibilities as young children and seeing adults model responsibility, good decision-making, and acknowledging their own errors is the best way to help youth develop solid life-time skills. It is Experiential Learning for all of us!

Michelle Beran is the 4-H and Youth Development Agent for the Cottonwood District, Barton County office. For more information on this article or other 4-H Youth and Development related questions email Michelle at or call 620-793-1910.