The Importance of Accountability
Over the summer, I found myself caught up in ESPN’s series of documentaries, "Nine for IX". In August, Pat XO, a film about former Tennessee women’s basketball coach, Pat Summitt, aired.
As I watched, I was struck by one player’s interview in particular. She shared vivid stories of Coach Summitt tearing into her during a time-out after she had done something wrong in a playoff game against an SEC rival.
Her visceral description of that experience struck a chord. In the same breath, she spoke of Coach Summitt’s unconditional love for the team and her desire to care for the players as if they were her family. So strong was the former player’s admiration and respect for Summitt that it was palpable twenty years after she had graduated.
The former player went on to credit Summitt for teaching her the importance of accountability, of taking responsibility for her actions, even – and perhaps especially – when she had screwed up. Of all of the life lessons that Summitt imparted, she felt this was the most important.
As I thought about the kinds of values I might want to emphasize in my new role in the Dean of Students’ office, the notion of accountability kept bubbling to the top of the list.
When Bill Bussey charged me with addressing assembly on the first full Monday of the year, I decided to talk about Pat Summitt and the striking similarities she shared with my own mother, Barbara Boyle.
While I won’t go into the gory details of the two stories I shared*, they marked moments in my pre-adolescence when I realized that my mom meant business. She was what I call now the “Queen of Accountability.” When I was 16, it was more like “so annoying!”
She followed through when we screwed up, and yet she clearly still loved us anyway. Moreover, she let us learn our lessons by living through the consequences. Thirty years later, these moments are as palpable as they were on the days that they happened. In many ways, my mother, by dint of her parenting style, prepared me better than anyone else could have to take on this new role.
I explained to Nobles students in a packed Lawrence Auditorium that morning that they could expect to be held accountable for their actions. We will praise and credit them for earning an A- on a test, or scoring a game-winning goal or delivering an ovation-worthy assembly performance. We will also dole out detentions for dress code violations or too many missed assemblies. Before blaming the teacher for a less than stellar grade, we will ask that they admit when they watched three consecutive seasons of Breaking Bad instead of studying for a math test.
As you think about the many ways that you can support your children, unconditional love is a great start, and you can simultaneously hold them accountable to great effect. As Dr. Wendy Mogel, in her book, The Blessing of a B Minus, wrote “Teens get in hot water all the time. They court drama and are poor predictors of disaster. This provides an excellent opportunity for learning self-reliance: how to solve problems and how to mine difficult circumstances for their benefits.”
As I head into this academic year, I’m trying to keep the wise trifecta of Summitt/Boyle/Mogel in my mind as I encounter this year’s inevitable adolescent drama and disaster. My hope is that you will, too.
* If you must know the content of these stories, please ask your child. Mind-jogging phrases include: “I’m sorry for calling you stupid,” and, “This is where kids go when they steal things.” Now, either let your mind run wild or use this as fodder for a good dinner discussion.