One of the more challenging tasks for parents, teachers, and coaches is to help kids understand the psychology behind personal responsibility, and the importance of being in control of their choices and behaviors. Psychology studies show that kids who own their choices and behaviors are less likely to blame others or make excuses when things don’t go their way, and are instead more likely to develop important life skills including problem-solving, communication skills, conflict resolution strategies, and stress coping mechanisms. Kids who fail to responsibly own their choices and behaviors often learn poor coping skills when it comes to handling adversity, including blaming others and seeing themselves as victims of unfair circumstances. It is for these reasons that we teach kids how to effectively appraise life situations, take ownership of their actions, and cultivate the confidence needed to come up with new and better ideas for the future. As kids master the psychology relating to the importance of personal responsibility, they can in turn apply their new mindset toward school, sports, and eventually their future careers.
Locus of control
Julian Rotter was a psychologist responsible for the concept of locus of control, defined as the degree to which people believe that they, as opposed to external forces (beyond their influence), have control over the outcome of events in their lives. Rotter believed that some people tend to take full responsibility for the outcomes that occur in their life, while others feel as though they have little control of things, and that outside factors largely dictate the results they experience in life. Using a youth sport example, some kids when learning the news that they were cut from the team will turn their attention to what they did poorly at tryouts, and what specific skills they need to improve in order to make the team at the next tryout (internal locus of control). Other kids cut from the team will do the opposite, and rather than turn inward to examine personal shortcomings will instead point toward poor coaching decisions, other kids earning spots on the team because of “politics,” and just about any other external factor (external locus of control). As you can see from these examples the ways in which we attribute outcomes in life can vary dramatically, from taking personal responsibility to blaming everyone/everything beyond your own efforts. These attribution decisions, in turn, impact our self-esteem, confidence, and even our overall wellness.
Below is a visual illustration of how locus of control impacts human happiness, health, and productivity:
It is true that in some life situations we really do not have much impact on the overall results — like when we play the lottery, or when we cheer our favorite team on from the stands with the hopes that they prevail. On the other hand, there are countless everyday situations where we do have control of our thinking, behaviors, and outcomes, and by taking responsibility we can employ new strategies leading to better chances for future success.
One more example that illustrates to difference between internal and external locus of control relates to student success in the classroom. Students who believe they can study harder, seek tutorial assistance, and pay more attention in class almost always see improvement in their course grades (internal locus); students who believe that their teacher completely determines their fate and that any efforts made by the student would be a waste of time will almost certainly continue to struggle in class (external locus). As you can see from these examples where you place responsibility and the subsequent efforts that flow from that decision will have a direct and dramatic impact on the results that follow.
Teaching kids about taking responsibility for their actions is an important task for parents, teachers, and coaches. It is important that kids realize that when they experience success in life, it is often because of the efforts they made to earn a good grade, or outwork the competition in a sporting event. Similarly, kids can learn that when they don’t prepare and subsequently perform poorly on an exam or in a game, rarely is it the teacher or coach’s fault. Taking responsibility in life allows us to continue to develop new life strategies, and the resiliency we develop along the way helps us better handle tough times as they arise in life. It is for these reasons that it is important that kids understand how much of their future success and failure relies largely on their own efforts, and not because of outside factors with little impact on the situation.