Are We Responsible For The Actions Of Our Children

The men and women who worked on "the pile" immediately after 9/11 are falling ill presumably due to exposure to toxic materials. While the workers say they were not aware of the danger, responsible authorities claim to have issued proper warnings. It has been suggested that leaders should have stopped workers from venturing anywhere near the pile until proper protection for them could be acquired. On the other hand, the government points to the fact that many of these workers entered Ground Zero unwilling to listen to the cautionary disclaimers of authorities.

This leaves us to ask where the boundaries of responsibility are drawn for our leaders. It is challenging, at times next to impossible, to control the actions of impulsive, strong willed, self sacrificing individuals. A leader's main responsibility is to the effort of leading. While they may be unable to control the actions of every individual they are charged with the task of preparing them to respond to different circumstances, to look out for one another and to follow the directives of authority. A leader is responsible if they fail the requirements of leadership. A leader is not responsible if everything possible was diligently applied in the act of leading.

Bad outcomes happen even when everything is done correctly. In the same way that leaders are responsible for those they lead, parents are for their children. Parenting is the ultimate form of leadership. It is infinitely complex because it spans the development of both child and parent. It is the template for the child's evolving perception of authority, membership, boundaries, and fairness. It is our job, as parents, to equip our children with the proper tools to deal with the myriad of situations they are sure to encounter throughout a lifetime.

When the tools are absent, children struggle. Children who have been taught how to deal with issues, such as bullying, don't let the taunts go to their souls. They put the moment in perspective and move on. Kids who have not been taught, or kids who've encountered nothing but taunts react outwardly and inwardly and don't move on. They expect more problems, prepare themselves for them and react again and again. The goal is to raise our children to be self regulating.

The primary tool is insight. Insight begins with the willingness, and later, the ability to look critically at one's own process. Looking critically inevitably forces us to ask the question, "Is that a good idea?" Asking the question creates a buffer between the thought and the action. The conclusions that follow are insights. It is that first moment when you pondered why you said or did a thing that insight is born. It is the parent's job to teach the child how to ask those questions of themselves.

Insight leading to self-regulation is a process very much like learning to ride a bicycle. One can certainly learn to ride all alone, but having an encouraging coach allows for moments of fear and indecision followed by resolve to plunge ahead. Removal of the training wheels with a firm hand on the shoulder and encouraging words flooding the brain push through imbalance and suddenly it all comes together. And it stays like that for a lifetime. Better yet, the moment is stored in a memory linked to the connection between parent and child. So, as leaders, are we responsible for the actions of our children? Before answering that question ponder these: Have I devoted every possible effort to help my children reach their full potential? Have I been mindful of their unique characteristics and understanding that at times they may behave in ways that are difficult to control? Have I guided them to gain insight into themselves and their own personal process? Have I helped them grow into self regulating individuals? Perhaps then a better question is, have I taken responsibility for the relationship I have with my children?.

Ted Lobby is a clinical social worker in private practice in Edina, MN. He works with all ages. He is the author of two books, one to help small children with bad dreams and the other to help adolescents become self regulating.

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