Don’t make your child’s life too easy
…by making life too easy for them.
A cry shatters the night, and Mommy runs to the crib to hold the baby, soothe her feelings, and rock her back to sleep. At dinner, Melody tells with frustration and anger of another fourth-grade girl who has been teasing her mercilessly. Dad listens intently and decides to give Melody’s teacher a call.
While running after a loose soccer ball, Jordan is inadvertently tripped by an opponent. He lies on the field, obviously in pain, clutching his ankle. Along with the coach, Jordan’s mother rushes to his side.
In each of these situations, the parent or parents are acting rightly, doing what
they should. They love their children and know that it’s their job to protect and heal and serve. That’s fine when they are children, of course. What parent wouldn’t run barefoot over broken glass to rescue his or her child from danger or pain? When children are small, we do everything for them, from changing their
diapers to getting them dressed in the morning. What many parents don’t realize, however, is that when their offspring become teenagers, they aren’t children anymore. They are ‘young adults in training’. They need to be equipping themselves for adulthood, developing the skills necessary to become capable and self reliant adults, and learning how to become responsible and how to take care of themselves. Parents who make life too easy for their teenagers – always running to the rescue – interfere with this process and usually end up stunting the teenagers’ growth. Here are just a few of the ways that parents handicap their teens: Getting them out of bed in the morning, doing their laundry, fixing their lunches and picking out their clothes. Loaning them money, giving them extra money after they have spent their allowance, or letting them spend designated funds, such as a clothing allowance, on something else. Buying them cars, stereos, TVs, toys, designer-label clothing, and other ‘essentials’ whenever they want them. Typing papers, doing research, delivering forgotten homework or lunches to school, and lying to teachers for them when they cut classes or skip school. Bailing them out of trouble whenever they get into it, fixing their problems, and paying the penalty for their mistakes. Feeling sorry for them when they have a lot of homework or extracurricular activities and excusing them from helping the family with household chores. None of these actions sound all that terrible, do they? In today’s busy world, this is how many modern parents express love to their teenagers. Rather than spending quality time with them or developing quality relationships, they make the mistake of giving their kids too much.
But there’s another reason we sometimes make life too easy for our teenagers: ‘to make life easy for us!’ This works for the short-term because it gets immediate results. Problems are solved, work gets done, and no margin is left for error. When we do everything for our teenagers, the work will likely be done right the first time. When we give our kids what they want, we save ourselves from having to argue with them or convince them that they should wait for it or figure out how to get it on their own. Parents take this route because they simply don’t have the time or the patience to do otherwise. This may make life easier for parents, but it can be devastating in the long-term for kids, who later discover that life just doesn’t work that way. People aren’t going to give them everything they want whenever they want it. They aren’t going to be able to manipulate the boss the way they did Mom and Dad, nor will they be able to continue sidestepping the consequences of their
Feeling sorry for them when they have a lot of homework or extracurricular activities and excusing them from helping the family with household chores, are ways parents handicap children.
actions. Sooner or later, they will come to realize that they are ill-equipped to function responsibly in the real world. That’s why it’s important to practice long-range parenting. Our ultimate goal as parents should be to help our children grow into capable, self-reliant adults.
The Value Of Consequences
We can begin practicing longrange parenting by allowing teens to experience the consequences of their actions whenever possible. But the only way kids will ever learn life skills such as responsibility, self-discipline, and good judgment is to understand the relationship between their actions and the results of those actions. SELF-ESTEEM Most teenagers will try to avoid the consequences of their actions whenever possible, but consequences actually build self-esteem. That’s because consequences provide them with a very real sense of empowerment. Consequences establish a direct relationship between behaviours (what I do) and outcomes (what happens to me). Kids who experience consequences learn that they have power to control what happens in their lives. “I can make good things happen or I can make bad things happen. It’s all up to me. I am in control of my life.” That’s a very freeing truth for a young person to learn. On the other hand, young people who are considered most “at-risk” usually feel powerless and see themselves as victims. These kids grow up thinking that nothing is ever their fault and that things “just happen” to them. They believe in fate or luck and tend to blame everyone else for their problems or failures. If they flunk a test, for example, their natural impulse is to blame the teacher, their parents, or the school system – anyone but themselves. This kind of thinking likely comes from growing up in an environment with few consequences. DISCIPLINE Consequences are also the best way to discipline- teenagers. Hardly any task of parenthood is more challenging than discipline. Most people equate it with punishment; in reality, the goal of discipline is to shape young people’s character, to help them become more mature and independent. How do we discipline teenagers? Punishment is not very effective. Teens are, after all, too big to spank. Yelling and screaming are counterproductive and move the focus from the offense to our out-of-control response. And let’s face it, some parents have grounded their kids so many times that the kids have gotten used to it and now accept grounding as a fact of life. Other kids rebel and simply don’t care what their parents do to them anymore. When children become teenagers, they want a new kind of relationship with their parents. If your relationship with your teen is generally negative, it doesn’t have to stay that way. You and your teen can learn mutual respect. Teenage rebellion usually starts brewing when kids
Most teenagers will try to avoid the consequences of their actions whenever possible, but consequences actually build self-esteem.
see themselves in a masterslave relationship with their parents. Adolescents are struggling to establish their own identities and want to be treated with dignity and respect. When they don’t get it, they misbehave. Seeing this as a threat to their authority, many parents respond by clamping down even harder, leading to a vicious cycle of disrespect, disobedience, and discouragement. To avoid that cycle, we need to learn to work with our teenagers rather than against them. If we learn how to discipline by using natural and logical consequences effectively, we can extinguish the fires of rebellion.
Using Consequences Effectively
There are two kinds of consequences – natural ones and logical ones. Depending on the situation, both are important ways for teenagers to learn responsibility and self-discipline. NATURAL CONSEQUENCES A natural consequence is anything that happens naturally to a person, with no outside interference. If a person jumps out of a window, that person will go down. Someone standing in the rain will get wet. Children can learn a great deal about responsibility by experiencing natural consequences. Our tendency as parents, however, is to interfere – to rescue our children from natural consequences. After all, what parent feels good about allowing a child to be wet, cold, or hungry? Remember the first time your child went off to school without his or her lunch? When you discovered the
Some parents handicap their kids by giving them way too much in the way of money, possessions, toys, clothes, and other material items.
lunch on the kitchen counter, you probably began having visions of your child sitting forlornly at the lunch table, starving to death while all the other kids ate their lunches. So you jumped into the car, delivered the lunch, and saved the day! We can get by with that for a while with small children. But when kids get older, rescuing becomes extremely counterproductive. For example, when we deliver a teen’s forgotten lunch, we send that teenager the very clear message that he or she can go through life being forgetful and irresponsible and nothing bad will ever happen. People don’t need to become responsible when somebody else will always fix things for them. But it’s wrong to fight our teenagers’ battles for them. A good rule of thumb is to ‘never do for teenagers what they can do for themselves’. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, but they are rare. Teens need to learn how to take care of themselves, to solve their own problems. When teenagers get themselves into trouble, we have two options. We can send in the lifeboats, or we can teach them to swim. The first option will save them ‘this time’, but the second will save them ‘for a lifetime’. Kids who experience natural consequences tend to become good swimmers. At times, however, natural consequences may be inappropriate, impractical, or ineffective, as when: The consequence is too dangerous. For example, if teenagers drink at a party, they should not be allowed to experience the ‘natural consequence’ of putting themselves and others at risk by driving under the influence. The consequence doesn’t feel like a problem to the teenager. For example, the natural consequence of not doing homework is bad grades. But for some teenagers, bad grades are not a problem. There are no immediate natural consequences. For example, there are no immediate natural consequences for smoking a cigarette, failing to do chores, or breaking curfew. Those consequences tend to come later. When any of these happen, it’s time to switch to logical consequences.
Logical consequences don’t happen naturally. They are set up by adults or by adults and teenagers together and agreed upon, if possible, in advance. Let’s take curfew as an example. Your teenager is expected to be home by a certain time, let’s say 11:00 p.m. What happens if he or she doesn’t come home? You don’t want the outcome to be left entirely up to you, which it will be if you don’t have a logical consequence in place. You don’t want to have to yell, scream, get mad, or unilaterally decree punishment on your teenager. So you decide with your teenager, in advance, on a logical consequence. You can say, “Either be home by eleven o’clock or give up the right to use the car for the next month.” When a teenager knows this in advance (and has agreed to it), then you can relax. In the unlikely event that your teen does fail to come home by the appointed time, you still don’t have to get angry. You can simply greet your son or daughter at the door and say something like, “I’m so relieved that you are safe. But I’m surprised that you have decided to stay home for the next month.” Logical consequences should not be confused with punishment. Punishment is what parents do to kids, and it often leads to rebellion and broken relationships. But logical
If teenagers drink at a party, they should not be allowed to experience the ‘natural consequence’ of putting themselves and others at risk by driving under the influence.
A good rule of thumb is to ‘never do for teenagers what they can do for themselves’. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, but they are rare. Teens need to learn how to take care of themselves, to solve their own problems
consequences involve the teenager in the process and are respectful.
Remember also that not all consequences have to be negative. Positive consequences can encourage positive behaviour. Positive consequences come in the form of rewards. As with logical consequences, they, too, should be related, respectful, and reasonable. Rewards should never be used as bribes. There is no reason to reward someone for doing something that he or she should be doing anyway. This is one of the reasons for not paying kids to do chores. If they are doing chores to get money, then they can decide not to do the chores whenever they don’t need or want the money. If a teenage son sets aside his plans to hang out with friends in order to help clean the house before company arrives, he probably deserves a thank-you – not only verbally but perhaps with his parents’ permission to go out with his friends that evening rather than stay home and help entertain the guests. Keep in mind that in most cases, the best positive consequence for a teenager is a smile or appreciation, a word of encouragement, or a hug or handshake from Mom and Dad. We don’t have to spend money or barter for our teens’ good behaviour.
Unfortunately, some parents handicap their kids by giving them way too much in the way of money, possessions, toys, clothes, and other material items. This is a common mistake because society is so materialistic. We are led to believe that happiness comes from lots of money and possessions even though, down deep, we know this is not true. It is also implied that love is expressed through buying the loved one expensive things. Today’s teenagers are often accused of being the most materialistic generation in history. If this is true, it’s because we have made them that way by giving them too much, making life too easy for them, and presenting an unrealistic view of how the world works. Even though many parents preach the ethics of hard work, the same parents paradoxically undermine that message by giving to their kids excessively. Most children perceive behaviour as reality – how a person acts means much more than what he or she says. Why work when you can have everything for free? This sets the stage for a lifetime of immaturity and a good deal of difficulty on the job and in personal relationships. It’s all right to provide for our children, but they don’t need everything they want. And there is a point at which material things become liabilities rather than assets. Do your children have more toys than they can play with? Does your teenager have more money than he or she can spend? Do your kids feel entitled to everything they have rather than thankful? Do they expect to get all the latest gizmos and gadgets, regardless of the cost? If so, they may find themselves ill-quipped to survive in the real world. Let’s help our young ones grow and take flight. Let’s not handicap them by making life too easy.
Article excerpted from ‘Understanding Your Teenager’, Magna Publishing Co Ltd, (Book Division); ` 175.