Wouldn’t it be nice if our kids just listened to everything we told them? We could impart all of our hard-earned wisdom upon them and save them from the agony of the many mistakes we made. They wouldn’t have to learn things the hard way since we already did that for them. Life would be so simple for them and everything would turn out just fine. We know it would. Really.
Sadly, life just doesn’t work that way. Teens need to learn things the hard way on their own. That is just how it has to be. Growth comes only through making some poor decisions and learning from those mistakes. Sitting back and letting that happen is one of the biggest challenges of parenthood; but also one of the most important gifts given to our children.
It is a kid’s job to make mistakes and learn from them. It is a parent’s job to hold kids accountable for the results of those choices. Sometimes, we can see the results of the choices kids make before they actually happen and it is the naturally protective instinct to try to prevent anything bad from happening to our children. Of course, we can guide them along the way and offer our opinions of different situations, but it is ultimately not the parent’s decision. Kids need practice as they grow up in order to make good decisions in adulthood.
We can teach them to make good decisions along the way by giving them choices on as many things as possible as they grow up. Allow young children to choose between two things and increase the number of choices and freedoms as they grow older. This gives kids a sense of control over their own lives and teaches them that they are capable of making good choices.
Parents can be a sounding board for their kids when they are faced with difficult decisions. They can listen to them talk through their choices and ask them pointed questions that force them to clarify their opinions and see them through to their natural consequences of their final decisions. Kids are more likely to listen to their parents’ opinions if they feel that their own opinions are heard and respected.
Of course, it is perfectly acceptable to have some things in a family that are simply non-negotiable. Matters of safety, values, and morals should be made clear to kids from the beginning. Sometimes the only reason that needs to be given is simply, “Because this is what our family believes.” Teens may choose to push those values and make choices that go against the family value system, and they should know the consequences for breaking those non-negotiable rules.
When kids grow up knowing that they will be loved no matter what but that they will be held accountable for whatever choices they make, they are more likely to follow the family values that have been taught to them. For example, new drivers are more likely to follow the safety limits put on them by parents if they know for sure that breaking those rules will result in a loss of driving privileges.
Giving kids freedom to make mistakes and holding them accountable for those mistakes is one of the hardest jobs of parenting. It helps to remember that it is only through making mistakes and learning from them that we all grow into responsible adults. It is all part of the process.