Responsibility vs. Nonresponsibility

As an illustration of more relaxed role differentiation, the Canadian Ojibwa allow their children to engage in adult activities as soon as they are physically capable. The Indians of this tribe gain their livelihood by trapping animals, and the nuclear family lives the winter months alone on their extensive frozen hunting grounds. The boy accompanies the father on hunting trips and brings in his catch to his sister as his father does to his mother. It is the girl's responsibility to prepare the meat and skins for her brother just as the mother does for her husband. By the time the boy reaches 12 years, he usually operates his line of traps on a hunting territory of his own and returns to his parents' house only occasionally to bring the meat and skins to his sister. A child of this tribe is consistently taught at an early age to rely upon himself and to see the world of the adult as not much different from the world of the young.

The child-rearing practices of the American culture handle this matter differently. The inside worlds of industry, business, professions, and labor are relatively inaccessible and largely unknown to the child. He does not make any contribution to the divsion of labor until he is in his late teens or early twenties. And then he assumes adult responsibilities in an abrupt fashion and not as a natural and gradual expansion of previous activities that were similar or identical. There is no such early partaking of adult functions as, for example, among the Cheyenne Indians who made a feast of the little boy's first snowbird catch. The Cheyenne boy was presented with a toy bow at birth and all through his childhood used serviceable bows which were made for him by the man of the family. He was taught in a graded series how to hunt animals and birds, beginning with those most easily taken. As he brought in the first of each species, his family made a feast of it and accepted his contributions as gravely as they did the buffalo his father brought home. When the boy finally killed his first buffalo, it represented the terminal phase of his childhood conditioning rather than the abrupt assumption of an adult role from which his childhood experience had been discrepant.

In many of these tribal societies, the child-rearing techniques achieve a continuity of activities that is not limited to certain daily nurturing patterns but is extended to include responsibilities that, in our society, are reserved to adults. For example, in the white United States population a child is conditioned to eat three meals a day. The child comes to consider this a normal and natural routine and carry it over to adult life without much thought or difficulty. However, in other areas of life, Americans do not engage in such uniform and consistent conditioning. A child is declared nonresponsible in respect to serious adult work and, as a matter of fact, is even prevented from playfully imitating most adult responsibilities, since they are invisible to him. Americans tend to consider it a universal rule that the child wants to play and that the adult has to work, forgetting that in many societies the mothers take their babies along to their daily work, carrying them in shawls or baskets close to the body. With the mother doing her work in this fashion in garden or field, the child has an opportunity to observe adult work. As soon as the child is old enough to run about, he takes on tasks that are important and yet suited to his strength -- thereby precluding the formation of a dichotomy of work and play. Adult tasks are gradually introduced to the child while elders give patient advice, yet do not offer to do the task in the child's place.

The American society proceeds differently. Even the law reflects these differences and provides that a child cannot be accused of a crime but only of "delinquency." Then, the legal and moral burden is still the parents' because the child presumably has not yet reached the "age of legal responsibility." The question of when the social and legal reaction to a child's "delinquency," either in terms of penalty or correction, is commensurate with the child's understanding of his delinquent act raises a most difficult issue. There has been suspicion lately that permissive and "understanding" attitudes toward juvenile delinquents may be inappropriate and may defeat the purpose of prevention as well as "rehabilitation," since permissive counseling will only reinforce and reward the delinquent pattern. What is needed, according to some psychiatric experts, is a new approach, a "Reality Therapy" that readjusts social reactions to make them more commensurate with the understanding that the juvenile may actually have of his acts. Readjustment of the law machinery in this direction would mean that in the future the juvenile would be held responsible for his deeds to a greater extent than is currently customary.

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