“Kids are always leaving a mess!”

Without a doubt, nearly every teacher and coach can relate to this issue: Young people are always making a mess! They don’t clean up after themselves. They don’t respect the facilities. We feel like we are their parents, constantly picking up after them.

However, I think this issue can be solved really simply. Simply do what they do in Japan: have the students clean up after themselves. From kindergarten onward, Japanese children are broken into teams and assigned cleaning duties in the classroom and the rest of the school.

“School is not just for learning from a book,” says Michael Auslin — a former English teacher in Japan who is now a resident scholar and director of Japanese Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. “It’s about learning how to become a member of society and taking responsibility for oneself.” says Auslin.

If we were to emulate this in our own schools, gymnasiums, and sports facilities, we would save on janitorial services, and more importantly, we would teach our athletes powerful life lessons about personal responsibility, good habits, and not taking others for granted.

For more information on schools that have implemented a clean-up routine for their students, read this article:

The Real Issue

I have been coaching one of my church’s middle school basketball teams this year, and it has been quite the experience so far. I am enjoying my time with them, and the behavioral issues we face are nothing in comparison to coaching a high school boys’ varsity team!

Still, every week of the season, I feel like I am sent more and more rules by the administrators. They feel that the kids need more supervision and policing, due to some issues that have occurred across the league. I know that wearing the wrong shoes on a basketball court can damage the floor. I understand that we want to keep the bathrooms tidy. I know that in today’s age, we need to supervise kids 24/7 for liability issues. I am also aware that these issues create problems for adults, and that they cost money, waste time, and create inconveniences.

We tend to approach these issues with what is, to us, a simple solution: Rules and punishment. We impose even more rules on our kids, and we dole out harsher punishments to get them to “comply” with these rules.

But what are we doing to address the real issue?

The real issue isn’t a dirty gym or classroom. The real issue is the lack of respect that is shown when our kids leave behind a mess for someone else to clean up. They fail to appreciate the care and cost that it takes to maintain these facilities. They are unaware of their consequences of their actions.

However, we cannot instill a greater respect for buildings, teachers, and janitors by simply doling out rules and punishments, such as making them run laps or sit in detention. Instead of engaging in conversations about respect, empowering them to develop personal standards, and discussing the benefits of being able to use a clean and well-maintained facility, we seek compliance through fear.

On the other hand, we should not take a passive approach, either. We cannot instill this respect by cleaning up their messes for them, not holding them financially responsible for damages, or lecturing them without real consequences.

Our young people need to be taught that it is a privilege to use the facilities. They also need to understand that the people who take care of these facilities (such as groundskeepers, janitors, and teachers) are real people with an important job to do and limited time to do it, and that it disrespects them when they walk into a filthy room which will take them twice as long to clean.

Take Action

We should give our students and athletes the responsibility to clean up after themselves, similar to those students in Japan, or even at Brentwood Academy in Tennessee. We could get our janitors involved by letting them lead the charge, and we can encourage our students and athletes to build relationships with the janitors and groundskeepers by having them shadow and work with the cleaning crew in the evening. This will give them a bigger picture of all the hard work, time, and effort that goes into keeping a facility clean and well-maintained, and they will understand the consequences of their bad habits.

Additionally, rather than doling out mindless punishments such as running laps or sitting idly in detention, we could tell our students and athletes that they have lost their privilege to study or practice based on their failure to respect the facilities. This will teach them that getting to do the things that they love, and which will further their education, is a privilege that they must develop good habits to keep.

Most importantly, let’s help our kids develop respect for the opportunity to become educated, or to play a sport that the facility provides, and to also appreciate the people that make it possible for them. Remember, the bigger issue isn’t a lack of rules or supervision, it is a lack of respect.

Let’s try modeling the respect that we want them to develop. Then, empower and encourage them to develop that respect within themselves.

-J.P. Nerbun