Kids and Accountability – Lessons in Owning It

Girl drama. I hoped we could avoid it. We actually made it a little more than halfway through fourth grade before it slapped us right in the face. And let me tell you: it stung. But, it also taught me about kids and accountability, and teaching my child to own it.

From an early age, I’ve been talking to my daughter kindness, respect, and friendship. I’ve been teaching and guiding. I try to set a good example. I’m not perfect and she won’t be either. Still, one thing I think is important is accountability and owning behavior.

I’m working hard to raise a strong, independent, caring, responsible person. But at some point, regardless of our teaching and guidance, our kids are going to make mistakes. And when they do, we need to make sure they own their behavior. We need to teach our kids to be accountable.

Certainly, kids are going to be kids. They are learning and developing. They are going to make poor choices. There will be conflict. There will be problems. They will fall short. That’s just part of life. After all, they are tiny humans. And navigating this complicated world is challenging enough as an adult, even more so for a child.

The Girl Drama

In this Girl Drama scenario, my tween daughter found herself in the middle of two friends at school. Among the three of them, there were many fabrications, a lot of gossip and generally snide behavior.

And so as a result, anger and resentment built up between all of them. That’s understandable, given the dynamics. Ultimately, it culminated in an incident in which two of them turned on one. (The exact kind of thing I’ve been hoping my daughter would avoid.)

To my disappointment, my daughter was part of the twosome that teamed up against one. All three of them have been cliquish and mean at one point or another. But this incident escalated to more than just the usual spat.

Conversation and Consequences

Once my husband and I became aware of the situation, we swiftly doled out an appropriate punishment. We also spent A LOT of time talking with our daughter. It wasn’t pretty for any of us. Inherently, she knew she had made bad choices.

But she’s also a child, so she also tried at times to make excuses and squirm out of it. Still, we held our ground and didn’t let her manipulate her story or try to shove all of the blame on the other children.

At home, after serious conversation, she came to have a much better understanding of gravity of her actions: giving in to peer pressure, exclusive behavior, making excuses for her poor choices.

But back at school, even after tears and apologies among the three girls, the stories about “who did what” and “who said what” quickly became tangled and convoluted. The drama continued. The girls were all shifting blame.

To make it worse, communication among the parents seemed to indicate that they too, were shifting blame. To me, it seemed like there was a lot of finger pointing and little acknowledgement of the fact that each girl bore some responsibility in the situation.

Parents: Your Child Does Make Mistakes

Just like any other parent, I love my child immensely. I believe she has a good heart, and in most cases, makes good choices. But I’m not naive enough to believe that my daughter was completely innocent in this situation, despite her initial attempts to make me believe so. I do not believe that she was 100 percent at fault, either.

Kids don’t want to be in trouble. They don’t want to face consequences. So sometimes, they will misrepresent. Come on, now. We know this. We were kids once, too. At one time or another, we’ve all tried to squirm out of something uncomfortable. Am I right?

But we didn’t let her get away with squirming out of it. We made her face the consequences for her poor choice to engage in “mean girl” behavior. And honestly, I really hate even writing the words “mean girl”, because it feels like I’m labeling her as a mean girl. But I’m not labeling her that. I’m just calling out her the behavior.

Teach Them to Be Accountable

Based on the communication I received from the other parents, we had a great deal of variation in stories among the girls. It also seems we had a great variance in what level we are each holding our girls accountable. It’s disappointing.

This is what we told our daughter:

“You are responsible for your choices. You were there. And you participated in this behavior. Own it.”

It’s called accountability and more of us parents need to be teaching it.

Because the drama continued at school and they would not stop placing blame on each other, I advised my daughter to remove herself from the situation. She wanted to move on and get past it.

She had an opportunity to talk to the counselor. I told her to tell the counselor exactly what her role had been and the things that she had said or done, regardless of the fact that some of it was unbecoming behavior. I told her to stand up for herself regarding the things she had not done that the other girls were blaming her for.

“You go in there and own your part. You don’t own their part. But you do own your part.”

So that’s what she did. I’m proud of her.

Parents — we need to hold our children accountable for their behavior. We need to make them own their choices, right or wrong. If we don’t, they are in danger of becoming crappy humans. The world doesn’t need any more crappy humans.

Actions = Consequences

Speaking of crappy humans…it’s inevitable that our children are going to grow up and have to deal with crappy situations…crappy people, crappy bosses, crappy friends, crappy partners, crappy co-workers, etc. There will be crappy jobs, crappy relationships, crappy circumstances and crappy days.

Crap happens. But you have to deal with it. It’s life. So around here, we are trying to manage our home like the real world.

In the real world, if you make a good decision, you typically get good results. When you make bad decisions, you get bad results. There are consequences, good or bad, for any action you take.

Example: she found herself in a crappy friendship triangle with drama and conflict. She made a bad choice to perpetuate drama. She now has consequences. We canceled her birthday party. Priorities have been revoked.

Get it? Cause = effect.

She’s learning a huge life lesson from this. Sometimes it’s hard to own up to making a mistake. Even as adults, we can struggle with this. It’s difficult to walk away from a situation instead of defending yourself. But sometimes in life, you just have to walk away. Which leads me to my next point:

Get Over the Need the “Be Right”

This ordeal reminds me that the kids are just newbies who are learning how life works. Hell, even we, the parents, don’t have it all figured out. Most people don’t. Plus, we’re flawed humans. Imperfect. Challenged. I think it’s safe to say that most of us are still battling our own insecurities and issues.

As parents, we want to believe our kids are perfect. “Not my kid!” we tell ourselves.

Guess what? “Yes, my kid.” Also, “Yes, your kid.”

Our kids actually do fib, smart off, say things they shouldn’t say, do things they shouldn’t do. They are kids. Anyone who truly believes their kids are 100 percent perfect all of the time is lying to themselves.

I get it, we have a tendency to want to be “right.” That’s normal to want to be right. But, we’re not always right! Let’s start being real. Let’s teach our kids to be real.

We need to stop worrying about how things look and what other people will think. I’m guilty of this, even when I know better. I felt sick all weekend after an ugly text message from one of the other parents. It heightened my stress and actually affected how I handled a conversation with my daughter.

Then I realized I was coming from a place of fear. Fear of unknown. (What would happen when they went back to school on Monday?) Fear of failing as a parent. (Where did we mess up?) Fear of “how does this make us look” and “what will they think of us?” For a while, I focused more on these fears than on my daughter, her feelings, and how we should reasonably and responsibly handle the situation.

We All Mess Up, But We’re Still Worthy

The days following the drama were rough on us; trying to work through what had led up to events, trying to make sense of the stories that were flying around. Once our family had resolved our concerns here at home, I wanted to make sure our daughter understood that her mistake did not define her.

I told her that we, her parents, have made countless mistakes but we have learned from them and done better. I told her no one is perfect. Sometimes emotions get the best of us. Sometimes we just choose wrong. We are human.

I stressed that we love her no matter what. That we have her back. That we are in this together. That she doesn’t have to be afraid. That she needs to be honest and own her behavior. I explained to her that we love her no matter what regardless of her mistakes. We will hold her accountable because we love her. It’s our job.

This is how life works. We screw up. We learn. And we try to do better the next time. No one has all the answers. No one is doing everything right all of the time.

We’re not perfect and neither are the kids. When they make mistakes, even big ones, especially big ones, teach them through it.

Be reasonable. Take responsibility. Show grace. If we can do those things, I think the kids will be alright.

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