“I wouldn’t be in trouble at school if my mom had just written me an excuse,” complained a teen I was counseling recently. “And the teacher didn’t have to fail me–he could’ve let me off with a warning!”

As I listened to this bright 15-year-old kid explain why everyone was at fault for his situation (except himself), I encouraged him to take personal responsibility for his own choices. He looked at me as if I was speaking a foreign language or had lost my mind.

Rather than being the exception, I think this example has become the rule. From politicians to celebrities to our kids, no one seems able to admit they were wrong or take responsibility these days. Everyone seems to be playing the blame game.

We Live in a Culture of Blame

As parents, we expect our children to do what so many people don’t – take responsibility. Nothing is more irritating than hearing your child whine, “It’s not my fault!” Kids often blame their teachers for their academic performance and their siblings for their misdeeds. And why not? Blaming others is modeled for our children daily by adults, their peers, and the news.

It’s so easy to focus on others when something goes wrong that we often don’t even realize we’re doing it too. Blaming others has become so widespread that it’s striking when someone actually does take responsibility.

In a meeting recently, a co-worker made the statement, “You know what? I didn’t follow through with that task. I apologize. It was my fault. I’ll do it now, and it won’t happen again.” It was refreshing to hear those words. I complimented the woman afterward on taking personal accountability for her actions. In our society, blame is so commonplace that we’re often surprised when someone owns up to something with no excuses.

Giving Responsibility to Your Child Is Challenging

As parents, it can be difficult to watch our kids struggle and experience negative consequences in life. When your child was a baby, you were entirely responsible for her—what she ate, her safety, everything. You were her caregiver. As your child got older, little by little, you started giving her more responsibility. You wanted her to become more independent. But with independence comes choices—and responsibility. It can be intimidating and scary for both you and your child to let go of that caregiving relationship.

Transitioning from taking total responsibility for your child to allowing her to make mistakes so she can learn and grow from them can be a tough process. We expect our kids to get it wrong sometimes. That’s just life.

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It’s also part of human nature to be uncomfortable when you have to admit you’ve made a mistake or a poor choice. It’s hard to own that you’ve let someone down or hurt them. Most of us don’t want others to think badly of us, and we may worry that we’ll be judged harshly or thought less of as a result of our behavior.

We also may want to avoid negative consequences for our actions. After all, when was the last time you said, “Yes, officer, I was speeding, and I deserve that ticket!”? It’s the same for our kids. They don’t like to feel discomfort any more than adults do. But discomfort is how we learn and grow—by recognizing and acknowledging our mistakes and then doing things differently in the future, so we don’t feel uncomfortable that way again.

Why Does Everyone Always Blame the Parents for the Child’s Behavior?

In society today, there’s been a growing trend of blaming parents for a child’s behavior. Whenever there’s a tragedy or a child behaves in a dangerous, harmful, irresponsible, or wrong way, people always ask, “Where were his parents?!” And parents, particularly those with kids struggling with poor behavior choices, have taken this to heart, internalizing and often blaming themselves.

Parents will say, “If I hadn’t had to work as much, maybe my son wouldn’t be so angry. Maybe he wouldn’t get into fights. He tells me all the time it’s my fault, and maybe he’s right.” But by saying this, the child gets the message that he’s not responsible for his behavior and choices—his parents are. Unfortunately, this can lead to a lifetime pattern of blaming others and refusing to take responsibility. It will always be his spouse’s fault, the boss’s fault, the police officer’s fault, or the legal system’s fault.

In short, blaming yourself for your child’s behavior is not effective—it makes you feel terrible, and it doesn’t help your child.

Keep the Focus on Your Child’s Behavior

So stop blaming yourself. Instead, keep the focus where it belongs—on your child’s behavior. The teen I was talking about earlier wanted the focus on anything other than his poor choices and behavior at school. He would shift attention to his mom so she would be in trouble rather than himself. When you hear someone trying to blame, respond with:

“Let’s stay focused on the issue and the behavior we want to address right now.”

Learn to Balance Parental Responsibility With Child Accountability

Balance your parental responsibility with your child’s accountability. Ask yourself, “Who is ultimately responsible for my child’s choice in this situation?”

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If you find you need to put more effort into modeling certain behaviors for your child, that’s fine. Accept responsibility for what you feel is your job as a parent and allow your child to accept responsibility for his job as a child preparing for adulthood. Your ultimate goal is to raise a child who will be able to function responsibly in the adult world.

Keep the Big Picture in Mind

Yes, you gave birth to your child. You guide him, care for him, and prepare him for the real world. But he’s here as more than just your child. He’s here to make this life his own, to learn, and to grow. Blaming yourself for his behavior doesn’t help him prepare for those life tasks. If anything, blaming yourself stunts his ability to figure out for himself what he’s comfortable with, what decisions feel good and right to him, and what kind of person he’s going to be when he grows up.

Create a Culture of Accountability in Your Home

When we blame ourselves for our child’s struggles, it leads to guilt and shame. Shame is a parenting paralyzer: it renders us ineffective when it comes to responding to our child. Shame makes us avoid holding our children accountable. Instead, we make excuses for him and rationalize his behavior by saying things like, “Well, my son’s mom was too hard on him when he was younger, that’s why he’s acting this way.” Or “The reason my teen daughter misbehaves is that we got divorced when she was younger. It’s not her fault.”

Understand that excuses are not helpful to our children or us. Excuses encourage blaming others. If you feel guilty or ashamed for things you’ve done as a parent, take responsibility and move forward. By doing this, you’re modeling for your child a culture of accountability.

Remember, if your child is always blaming others, he never has to change—and he probably won’t.

Related Content:
How to Create a Culture of Accountability in Your Home
Teach Your Child Responsibility — 7 Tips to Get Started

Empowering Parents Podcast:
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About and

Kimberly Abraham and Marney Studaker-Cordner are the co-creators of The ODD Lifeline® for parents of Oppositional, Defiant kids, and Life Over the Influence™, a program that helps families struggling with substance abuse issues (both programs are included in The Total Transformation® Online Package). Kimberly Abraham, LMSW, has worked with children and families for more than 25 years. She specializes in working with teens with behavioral disorders, and has also raised a child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Marney Studaker-Cordner, LMSW, is the mother of four and has been a therapist for 15 years. She works with children and families and has in-depth training in the area of substance abuse. Kim and Marney are also the co-creators of their first children's book, Daisy: The True Story of an Amazing 3-Legged Chinchilla, which teaches the value of embracing differences and was the winner of the 2014 National Indie Excellence Children's Storybook Cover Design Award.

Comments (15)
  • not a mom but still raising kids
    I am not a parent but have been with my boyfriend for almost three years and he has three children. We are from different cultures and have very different opinions about a lot of things. Holding children accountable is perhaps the biggest source of conflict in our relationship.More The youngest child is almost ten and still has tantrums. These result in him kicking things, breaking things, and generally being disrespectful. It bothers me tremendously that this child is experiencing this kind of distress. It bothers me more that both of his parents allow this reaction to the distress instead of seeking help. He is permitted to kick doors in the house, he has punched an ipad until it was unusable, and there are many other examples. I don't know the proper way to address this, and I probably don't do it correctly, but when the outbursts cause damage especially I am unable to stand by and watch. I will yell to try to get his attention and will restrain him. I was not raised in an environment where the children were allowed to be destructive in any manner even at a much younger age and we would have been spanked for disrespecting an adult the way his son is permitted to speak to me. And when I do step in, his father will excuse his behavior, because he doesn't think I should yell, instead of correcting his and addressing me in private if he feels it necessary. I don't agree with the "let it play out and I'll talk to him about it later" philosophy of his parents. Yet we all live together and I need to find a way to "parent" more effectively with this child. Even though I am not his parent, I feel a sense of responsibility to contribute to his ability to function in the world as an adult and this won't work for him. If anyone has advice I would appreciate it.
    • Denise Rowden, Parent CoachEP Coach

      Thank you for reaching out to Empowering Parents. There is no doubt that blended have their challenges, especially when the bio parent and the step parent aren't on the same page in regard to how behaviors should be addressed. We have several articles that focus specifically on blended families you may find helpful. You can find those here: https://www.empoweringparents.com/article-categories/non-traditional-families/blended-step-families/.

      We appreciate you being part of our Empowering Parents community. Be sure to check back and let us know how things are going. Take care.

  • Exactly

    A good reminder:

    "But he’s here as more than just your child. He’s here to make this life his own, to learn, and to grow. Blaming yourself for his behavior doesn’t help him prepare for those life tasks. If anything, blaming yourself stunts his ability to figure out for himself what he’s comfortable with, what decisions feel good and right to him, and what kind of person he’s going to be when he grows up."

  • Lisa

    Seems like a lot of peoples responses are doing exactly what this article is trying to convey , that it is not Always the parents fault when our kids get into trouble. I admit I am guilty of saying “it’s the parents fault”. Until it happened to me :(

    My main goal in life and what I’ve prided myself on the last 20 years of being a mother was raising my kids the best I could, that meant eating dinners together, helping them with homework, teaching them right from wrong and talking to them when problems arose and how to approach them (being emotionally available, basically) . They are good kids , but one got into big trouble and We as parents are not sure why it happened, since it goes against everything we’ve taught her. I can’t help to blame myself because that’s what I’ve always done to others (blame the parents). If I thought I lacked somewhere in my parenting I would be the first to admit it, I’m not a perfect person but I just can’t help but feel like I did something wrong. I feel like I must have failed somewhere. What do you do when you actually are a decent parent and your kid gets into big trouble (besides let them pay the consequences)? What does it say about you as a parent ?

  • AnotherMom
    momstired Let him meet his birth mom like he asked.
  • marycw
    i didn't give birth i adopted, but it applies the same.
  • JoWard
    As a parent the best lesson we can teach our children is about the emotions they are experiencing so they can better deal with them, put a name to them and communicate them to others.  It is so very hard for a toddler, child or teenager to communicate what theyMore are feeling if they have not been taught how.  I believe to prevent blame a parent needs to understand their child, validate their feelings and teach them how to make amends.  When that happens perhaps there will be less fears and anxieties and more respect and self worth within ourselves, our relationships and our children.  I do not believe it is remotely acceptable to expect a child or teenager to behave in a way that an adult is unable to behave in!  Unfortunately a great many parents do not understand that they are the route cause of their child's or teenagers lack of emotional intelligence or life skills.  It takes a great deal of honesty to see yourself as you really are, both from a child's, teenagers and adults perspective.  But who is responsible for creating this honesty in the first place?  If a child is not taught this by their parents they have to teach themselves!  What happens if a child is always asked to apologise but never receives an apology themselves?  At the end of the day, a child's most greatest wish is for their parents to see, hear and understand them for who they are.  It is not fair to neglect your child emotionally and then expect them as teenagers to 'get it!'  Acting out is a child's way of saying, "I'm scared" "I'm lonely" "I'm hurt" "I'm confused" I'm frustrated" "I'm angry" "I need attention!"
    I agree with most of this. However when a child is made to do the things an adult should be doing. Making the child stop doing what they are so they can go get them a drink from the other room and hollers at them over everything a childMore isn't to blame. The parents are. To be nice and good as well mean and bad are learned behaviors. Sad thing is the children do pay for when young and later in life. Parents are not dictators either. There is a balance. It's funny how many people treat their kids like property or they treat them like they don't matter.
    • thelostsock
      Hey I had pretty crap childhood too. But some how I managed to be a well behaved kid. What are the odds of that? Your parents aren't pulling any strings. You control the show. The problem is that the blame game doesn't end at childhood. TheseMore kids learn early on "I can do whatever I want. Everyone will blame mommy and daddy". They carry this knowledge on into adult hood. It's one thing when 5 year old Jack refuses to put away his toys because mama wouldn't buy him a cookie, but it's real sad and pathetic when 38 year old Jack takes on the hobby of robbing liquor stores because 33 years ago mama didn't buy him a cookie
  • Guest

    Please let's remember the importance of our Posts.

    For questions and concerns....

    Let's not pass judgment nor bash our Parents..

    Everyone has had some type of upbringing....

    But, our important thing is to HELP our children that may have the above issues or symptoms..

    Let's remember this please ....


  • Gab

    Please parents let's remember the posts for comments are for questions or concerns... Not for judgement nor bashing the other parent or our parents...

    But, too learn from one another about our children that may have the above issues and how to HELP them...


    Just a thought for us to remind ourselves ... I'm new to this site and noticed the posts....

  • EllieFrost
    My daughter is exactly like her father. She looks like him, she carries herself like him and she has his temperament and behavior towards others the way he did. He pretty much abandoned her when we got divorced when she was a year old and he still won't speak toMore her. If looks are inherited, why can't we just admit that temperament, etc. are inherited just because we can't "see" it?
    • AnotherMom

      EllieFrost Are you bitter/angry towards

      this man?  Really looks like it.  Kids pick up on that.  With love

  • guest
    If you bring a child into this world then you better be prepared to make some personal sacrifices to see to it that your child/children are brought up to be fit for society. Being a caring parent does not equate to being a good parent. My father (a single parent)More loved my brother and I very much but I had to learn about responsibility from my grandma when I was in my twenties because my dad was to busy drinking and partying with his friends to teach me valuable life lessons when I was growing up. I love him very much and I help take care of him thow he was very neglectful.
  • rookieparenting
    If the parents do not take responsibility for not parenting their children properly, how can children learn to take responsibility for their own action?
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