Where Has All of the Responsibility Gone? by David Bredehoft

Is it just me, or has the world suddenly gone irresponsible? Doesn’t it seem that just about no one today wants to be responsible? Yes we hear a lot about accountability, but who really is walking the walk and not just talking the talk when it comes to responsibility? Parents? Children? Government? Schools? Business? Who? I may be looking through a Pollyanna dreamland microscope at my childhood past, but I clearly remember growing up in a family, community, and a world in which responsibility and accountability were expected. If you were not responsible, you had to face the consequences! Nobody was there to rescue you from your own foolishness! What ever happened to the school of hard knocks? I for one would like to bring it back.


Here is a sampling of the stories that got me all worked up from the news:

  • Affluent 16-year-old Texas teen Ethan Couch sentenced to 10 years’ probation after driving drunk and killing four people based on the defense that he was rich and claimed that his wealthy parents never taught him about consequences.
  • A college student blows through $90,000 college fund set up by her grandparents and then blames her parents for not teaching her how to manage money.
  • A 21-year-old sues her parents for college tuition - and wins.
  • NBC news reports “A 17-year-old boy in Wisconsin is suing his high school for requiring him to do summer homework. Peer Larson claims the school assigned him an unfair workload for his pre-calculus class and that it caused him unnecessary stress.”
  • According to an ABC News report, People who overeat used to be called gluttons. Now, they're victims. Two overweight Bronx, N.Y., teens who scarfed down McDonald's burgers and fries several times a week blame the company for their health problems. Their attorneys assert they are victims of corporate malfeasance because the chain deceives customers about its products.
  • The Minneapolis Star Tribune states that “In a list compiled by the Government Accountability Office of 25 federal government programs that are at high risk for fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement, number that are directly related to the Department of Defense: 14.”
  • The Minneapolis Star Tribune also reported that the “Ratio of the number of times the word ‘accountability” appears on the federal Department of Education’s Web site to the number of times it appears on the Department of Defense’s Web site: 444 to 1.”

The Link between Irresponsibility and Overindulgence

What does responsibility and accountability have to do with overindulgence? Clearly they are connected. Our research demonstrates that the more you overindulge - the more irresponsible you become. Adults in our studies who were overindulged as children grew up deficient in:

  life and interpersonal skills,

  domestic skills,

  mental and personal health skills,

  decision making skills,

  money and time management skills, and

  responsibility skills.

Highly overindulged children in our studies were more likely to grow up and continue the cycle of overindulgence with their own children because as adults they indicated that they believe:

  my life is chiefly controlled by my child.

  my child usually gets his or her own way, so why try.

  neither my child nor myself is responsible for his/her behavior.

  I have often found that when it comes to my children, what is going to happen will happen.

  when something goes wrong between me and my child, there is little I can do to correct it.

You Can’t Change Our Entire Overindulgent Culture, but You Can Change Yourself

Sometimes I wish I could wave my magic wand and change our overindulgent culture. The problem is I don’t have a wand, and even if I did, the scope of the problem is too huge. Instead, I have to remind myself that the only one I can change is me.

I can set standards and expectations for my children. I can hold my children accountable. I can realize that experiencing unpleasant consequences, following rules they may not want to follow, and not getting what they want all of the time are very important experiences that help children grow up to be healthy and responsible adults.

There is more help about avoiding overindulgence in How Much is Too Much? Raising Likeable, Responsible, Respectful Children – From Toddlers To Teens – In An Age of Overindulgence (2014, DaCapo Press Lifelong Books).

All photos from MorgueFile free photo. 


© David J. Bredehoft, Jean Illsley Clarke & Connie Dawson 2004-2022;  bredehoft@csp.edu