The Character Movement

Family Accountability

One of the things that we say on Youth Frontiers Respect Retreat® is that you don’t have to like everyone, but you do have to respect everyone. I recently heard a story from a parent that illustrates this small, but important truth.

We were out for lunch when we saw a family who has a daughter in our daughter’s grade. We all went over to say hello and I ended up talking to the parents for a while. Afterward, I asked my daughter, “Did you see Lindsey?” (My daughter had been standing five feet away.) My daughter said that yes, she did see Lindsey.

“Did you say hi to her?”

“No, Dad, we haven’t talked since fourth grade,” my daughter said. That would have been really awkward.”

I then made sure to stand up for the idea that we reach out to people. I told my daughter that I understood how social interactions can be awkward, but our family doesn’t care about whether we’re “officially” friends or not friends.

“Let’s not put ourselves in a box of who we’re going to say hello to,” I said.

I love that this parent made this point in the context of family accountability. Instead of scolding his daughter for being rude or lecturing her on social niceties, this parent simply reminded his daughter of how their family does things. We’re not a family that puts itself in a box.

To take this idea a step further, I think you can make this accountability go both directions. If you’re always the one doing the reminding, then your kids won’t necessarily feel as engaged in these larger conversations about respect, character, values and so on.

Here’s a story from a friend that shows the other side:

At a restaurant recently, I made a comment about our waitress. She was very large and wearing orange shorts.

I said, “She looks like she’s dressed like a pumpkin.”

My son said, “Dad, that’s not nice.”

I was about to defend myself by saying it was an off-hand comment or that my son shouldn’t be so serious, but instead I stopped myself.

In a way, both of these stories illuminate what I’ve learned over three decades of working with kids. It’s the culture of a school that drives the behaviors. If faculty, staff and students empower students to stand up to bullies and show respect, then the kids will generally be nicer to each other.

This doesn’t happen because of posters in the halls reminding kids to “be good.” A school has a good climate because everyone feels invested in holding one another accountable for their behavior.

A family works in the same way. If you’re sarcastic and cutting about your neighbors, don’t be surprised when you hear it reflected in your children’s attitudes toward their classmates. If you’re generally polite and respectful, your kids will generally be polite and respectful. If you can encourage them to monitor you a bit and have a sense of humor about yourself when they do, then you’ll get far better results than any lecture could deliver.

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