So one of the most difficult lessons to teach when parenting teenagers is the lesson that rights and responsibilities are connected. In the United States adolescence is a time of many rights with few responsibilities – in order to transition an adolescent to adulthood one has to start in early childhood connecting rights and responsibilities.
Mindfulness, and balance of self-needs and group needs are important ways to identify and teach this relationship. A basic component of this is empathy.
In order to prepare a child for moral development, the components of empathy and rights/responsibilities relationship should be presented in early childhood. Skills development requires the elements of those skills be taught in small parts earlier. Think about how we teach reading, writing, and mathematics.
When we have rights without the connection to responsibilities then we don’t see how what we do affects our sense of personal power or the rights of others. There is a disconnect between individual and community. We need to teach a direct connection to one’s own power, growth, and how we utilize resources.
It’s like the fable Give a man a fish and you feed him for one night – Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime…..Teaching our children to be nice to get what they want is insufficient we need to teach them empathy and moral reasoning.
Understanding the relationship between individual rights and responsibilities requires the development of empathy. Empathy is an important quality required for healthy relationships. When a person is focused solely on his own rights and needs, he has little empathy; this is understood within its relationship to narcissism.
Lack of empathy is not just undesirable it is one of the qualities looked for when evaluating a person’s degree of sociopathy. Sociopathy is both innate or genetic and learned or developed. Some studies indicate that a sociopath is nearly untreatable by age 13 years old, so waiting to address these issues makes it nearly impossible to turn around the habit development aspect of sociopathy.
Teaching our children empathy and to understand how they are connected to others, to groups and, to some degree, community is one of the habits that helps to defuse sociopathic development.
This skill set is problematic if we err in either direction.
Children need to learn about their connection in groups, and they need to learn they have responsibilities to the group as well as themselves. Too obedient and they cannot stand out on their own – too self-absorbed or willful and they can’t connect and work in groups or teams.
There is a funny little movie called Ella Enchanted about a girl who has a gift – and the gift is of obedience – but what it really meant was that she was imprisoned by her compulsion to do exactly what she was told to do, even against her own will or inner sense of what was right.
In a way over emphasis on teaching our children obedience does this; it teaches them to be pushovers or followers and if we want to teach them to develop their leadership skills they have to be aware of how they fit into the group while simultaneously able to break away from the needs of the other, or group, when it doesn’t serve them or the expectation of obedience is unreasonable.
These are difficult, complex concepts. Various philosophical theories take us down the rights, or the responsibilities, paths. The balance of these is what is really needed to have a healthy individual at her best potential within a healthy group. Teaching about rights and responsibilities and the relationship between the two must start in early childhood.
Mindfulness and balance are integral components of the healthy relationship of rights and responsibilities. These are great tools to utilize to develop empathy.
So how to work this into your life if you are parenting, begin an ongoing discussion of these ideas with your children. Focus this on your family constellation first. Make sure your children have age appropriate responsibilities in your family. Chores and expectations that are not just personally focused but also family or group focused.
You can also try to address interaction issues from an empathic developmental perspective. Babies will cry if they hear another child crying so there is an archaic form of empathy to encourage and develop.
Second, have them be involved in giving back to their community in whatever way you do this, like through charity, cleaning up the environment, recycling or some other way that hi-lights a connection to the community at large.
Have this be a normal, maintenance part of your everyday lives so it is incorporated into their internal structure as a way of life.
See you tomorrow.