Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The ethic of responsibility

The other day, a Japanese mother asked her 8-year-old daughter to pick up after their dog. "Why don't you do it yourself?" she fiercely replied. To my great surprise, the mother just smiled and went to clean up the mess herself. Then, embarrassingly looking at me, she said: "Asking children to help with chores is a big hassle. It's easier and faster to just do the work ourselves."

Every year, I visit at least 60 schools and community centers around Japan to read my picture books to children and talk to parents about how to create a nurturing home for their offspring. I meet many mothers who don't seem to realize it's important to assign chores to their children. There are parents who care only that their children prepare for entrance exams and are totally indulgent in all other respects.

Chores for kids are much more than a parent's attempt at gaining free labor — they help teach responsibility and a sense of family unity. In an interview aired on ABC in November last year, then President-elect Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, said their two grade-school daughters will still have to do chores even though there is a staff in charge of doing all the work around the White House. They firmly said Malia and Sasha will be picking up after their puppy, cleaning up their rooms, making their beds, and helping around the house. It was obvious that the first daughters will not be spared the "ethic of responsibility" their father pledged to usher in when he took office.

Responsibility is not an inborn character trait that some have and others lack, but it is learned. It's never too early to start teaching responsibility through chores. Some sample chores for toddlers and preschool kids can include "helping chores." For instance, they can help pick up their toys, pile books and magazines, and water indoor potted plants. School-age kids greatly increase their capacity to do more complicated chores. These can include making their own beds, dusting around the house, setting and cleaning the table, washing and drying dishes, folding the laundry, taking out the trash, watering outdoor plants, and taking care of the family pets. As children get older, parents can use discretion to increase responsibilities for them.

I deeply believe consistent responsibilities at home help children learn to be independent and accountable, show self-restraint, care for others and pursue happiness later in life. Children who are given responsibilities in the family can confidently deal with challenges that come their way in society, and they are also more likely to become better citizens. I hope Japanese parents seriously take these facts into consideration and start getting their offspring involved in household chores, otherwise future generations will suffer grave consequences.

By Joel Assogba Shukan ST: FEBRUARY 20, 2009 (published in Japan Times ST)

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