It is generally accepted that we are all responsible for our actions.
Except for when we’re kids, that is.
When you are a minor, you are absolved of at least partial responsibility for what you do. The young get breaks, lighter sentences, second chances and are afforded a number of institutionalized clemencies they won’t get when they’re grown up. It feels instinctively correct that children should bear less responsibility than adults. Our common sense confirms it, too. They are less capable than adults. Even the law upholds a difference in its different treatment of the two.
But if responsibility is something you can arbitrarily reduce, perhaps it is an important quantity we should take greater pains to measure and account for, especially since we are indulging to adjust its value as often as we do.
From the perspective of a child, we know only that some responsibility has been lifted from us. We may measure it as lesser punishment, etc. But, as an amount of responsibility taken from our shoulders, we have no clue where it has gone.
From the perspective of the parent, we may know how to reduce the responsibility of the child (again, as lesser punishment), but we may not know how to increase it upon ourselves accordingly. As parents, we may not even be aware that there is an inescapable connection between reducing responsibility in one person and increasing it in another.
This begs further scrutiny. Part of the problem may be that “responsibility” is a bit of a fuzzy word. Sometimes, it’s a good thing. Sometimes, it’s a bad thing. To get a better handle on the Math of Responsibility, let’s use the word “blame” for a moment, instead. Blame is arguably interchangeable with the negative instance of responsibility. Let’s further assume that there is a fixed amount of it — by that I mean that you cannot decrease blame here without increasing blame there. Blame is unpleasant, as we all know. It makes sense that we would try to take advantage of as many opportunities to shed blame as we possibly could. It also makes sense that we would do all we could to avoid taking blame. In a society like ours, where we have many kinds of personal and legal circumstances where the blame of a person may be diminished (extenuating circumstances, I think they call them), you can expect that some significant amount of blame is sitting unclaimed in a pile on the floor.
Now let’s go back to calling blame responsibility.
The relationship between parent and child in many ways mirrors the relationship between the individual Citizen and the State. The “kids” are taking advantage of every opportunity to duck responsibility. But the parents are not really taking it upon themselves, either.
Thus, there is a Responsibility Deficit.
Like other types of deficit, the responsibility deficit can only be corrected by a willingness to work hard for little reward, at least for a while, until the system re-equilibrates. As you would expect, there is little interest on anyone’s part in doing this.
Parents will have to work harder to develop in themselves a feeling of permanent responsibility for their children. This becomes especially difficult for a parent once the child is no longer a child, and is presumed to bear full responsibility for themselves. Likewise, as children become adults, they will have to work harder to assume 100% responsibility for themselves, though they know their parents will bear some amount. If both conditions are met, there would be an overlap. The sum of the responsibility held by the parent and the child would be greater than 100% — and there would be a surplus of responsibility, instead of a deficit.
That seems like it would be a good thing.