Q: Yesterday our 10-year-old played around the neighborhood for four hours without checking in, and now he's grounded. We're trying to give him more freedom, but how do we teach him to make good decisions?
C. Klein, Raleigh, N.C.
A: Solving the short-term problem may be as simple as buying your child a watch. Teaching responsibility is a long-term process.
"Get a watch with an alarm that's easily programmed," says Jackie Dwyer, a reader from Richmond, Va. "Set the alarm to go off every hour. Every time he hears the beep, he needs to call."
Parents must also be sure to have a clear understanding of the rules.
"My daughter is 10, and I always spell out the rules at the very beginning," says Donna Ciezki of Palatine, Ill. "If the child doesn't understand what the rules are, then you really can't blame him for not following them."
By age 10, children are old enough to begin to understand why parents make the rules they do, says Jay Kessler, author of "Raising Responsible Kids" (Avon, $4.99, $5.99 Canada).
"Tell your child it's not because you don't trust him, but because you love him and worry about him," says Mr. Kessler, who is president of Taylor University in Upland, Ind. "In a family, this is how we show consideration for each other."
When a child begins checking in on schedule, that's a good time to offer praise and begin talking about the broader issue of responsibility in a positive light.
One expert in the area of teaching children responsibility says the only way to raise good decision-makers is to give children legitimate decisions to make. To accomplish that, Richard Eyre, author of "Teaching Your Children Values" (Fireside, $11), advises setting up a family economy.
Instead of an allowance, children should earn spending money doing household chores, says Mr. Eyre, who lives in Salt Lake City. The more chores, the more they earn.
"Then, turn over the entire purchasing of clothes to the child," says Mr. Eyre, whose method is explained in a videotape called )) "Self-discipline and Decisions," which is part of the "Teaching Your Children Values" tape series.
Just because the child gets the buying power doesn't mean parents stay silent. "In this context, there are enormous opportunities to get into all kinds of issues," Mr. Eyre says.
Don't preach; rather, look for ways to teach, such as discussing the advantages of waiting until something goes on sale to buy it.
L "The parents' role is to help a child think," Mr. Eyre says.
To order Mr. Eyre's tape, call him at (801) 581-0112. The two-tape set costs $12.95 plus a $3.50 shipping charge.
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