One often hears the claim that many of the problems of young people, and especially teenagers, are the result of low self-esteem. These web pages are based on the concept that many of the problems of our children and adolescents are not so much caused by poorly developed self-esteem as they are by a poorly developed sense of responsibility.

Sense of responsibility is caring about other people and about the enviroment in which we live. It is taking others into consideration, taking care of the community, defending those who are weaker, and helping those who need assistance. While it may be that some children seem to be born with a strong sense of responsility, the reality is that this is a long and often arduous learning process. There are many ways of teaching responsibility to children in their daily life. Those situations, however, where children have done something unacceptable or something irresponsible, provide extraordinary opportunties for responsibility education. Succesful intervention in cases of irresponsible behavior is an effective means of providing children an opportunity to build their sense of responsibility.

On these pages you will learn a step-by-step model for intervening in situations where children or adolescents have committed irresponsible acts. The intention of the model is to guide children to take responsibility for their actions. The underlying assumption is that taking responsibility builds the child's own sense of responsibility and therefore diminsihes the likelihood of recurrence of similar acts in the future.

The word wrongdoing refers, on these pages, to any socially unacceptable or inappropriate act such as stealing, physical or verbal abuse, harassment, vandalism, or any other breaking of mutually agreed rules.

Taking responsibility refers here to a sequenced process which consists of

1 Admitting -the person agreeing to discuss what has happened and owning up, or admiting to, what he (he is used throughout the text for both genders) has done

(2) Understanding - demonstrating that he understands the negative consequences of his action

(3) Apologizing - expressing his apology to those concerned

(4) Making up - accepting that he will carry out a mutually agreed-upon method of reparation

(5) Promising - promising not to repeat the behavior and negotiating mutually agreed upon consequences should this promise be broken, and

(6) Caring for others too - showing willingness to be proactive in the prevention of similar infractions among peers.

There is actually nothing new in these steps of responsibility. This is simply a model to remind us, in the midst of our busy work, what we already know: sterotypical punishments dictated by an authority often fail to stop inappropriate and unacceptable behavior. It also well known that in some cases conventional punishments appear to have the paradoxical effect of actually increasing that behavior that it is meant to prevent. This tends to be the case particularly when the pupil feels that the dictated punishment is unfair, in which case it may only serve to promote a spirit of defiance. On the other hand, an intervention that the pupil experiences as fair, and which is planned together with people who are important to him, can have a long term positive effect on his behavior.

The six steps of responsibility are based on the authors' observations of what behavior on the part of the offender will convince others that recurrance of the behavior is not likely. In developing the Six Steps we have been inspired by many authors who have discussed the psychology of changing unacceptable behavior. Among them are, notably, American family therapist Cloe Madanes, who has described her work with families where abuse has taken place; Allan Jenkins, Australian social worker who has described his work with domestic violence offenders; and Wilhelm Glasser, American psychotherapist who is the founder of "Reality Therapy".

Madanes: Sex, Love, and Violence; Strategies for Transformation, 256 pages, W.W. Norton & Company, $25.95)

Jenkins: Invitations to responsiblity: the Therapeutic Engagement of Men who are Violent and Abusive, Adelaida, Dulwich Centre Publiatons,1990.


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