“Everybody, sooner or later, sits down to a banquet of consequences.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
What’s that famous line parents, coaches, and teachers use ad naseum? Practice makes perfect. Though it borders on the cliché, the saying holds water. When we hear a child practice an instrument for the first time, the sounds are anything but pleasant. The notes screech out, and we’re tempted to cover our ears. But we don’t let them stop playing the violin or flute just because they can’t hit the notes right off the bat. As they learn, kids will make mistakes, which should make them practice more. Eventually, with enough practice, they’ll play that song just right, and we will give a sigh of relief!
The same principle that applies to music, sports, academics, or anything worthwhile, holds true for decision-making, as well. With enough practice, your child can learn to be more mature, responsible, trustworthy and accountable for their actions. But that means handing over some of the control. Unless we allow a child to take full responsibility for their behavior by facing consequences, our teenagers will remain perpetually immature. If we don’t allow them to practice maturity, they will constantly be blaring that one, screeching note of irresponsibility.
Experience comes from a making mistakes and learning from them. There lies the heart of maturity – consequences. If you wonder why teenagers behave irresponsibly, it’s because, well, they are irresponsible. And, they will not become responsible, or mature, until they deal with the consequences of their choices and behavior. It is a cycle that needs to happen over and over before a teen comes to full maturity.
So how can mom and dad allow their teen to deal with consequences appropriately?
Don’t Wait – Start Early
I’ve had many parents say to me, “Wouldn’t it be best to wait until I trust my child before I give them more responsibility or control? Then they won’t have to deal with such difficult consequences.” My answer has always been, “If you wait until you trust your teen, you will never give them any responsibility.” By delaying the process of handing over accountability to our kids, we’re throwing away valuable, real- world practice time. Once they leave the home, all that adult- type responsibility will be on their shoulders, and the consequences they face will be much more serious. Better to start early, and often, so that when they do face the realities of the world, they do so equipped with the decision- making tools they learned growing up.
Good decision- making is a learned process. As the writer of Hebrews says, “But solid food is for the mature, who, because of practice (constant use) have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14).
Gradually hand over the reins, and stop helping teenagers so much – the way you did when they were younger. You help your teen best by letting them deal with the natural results of their decision, fall down a bit in the process, and then figure out how to get back up. Don’t wait to develop this necessary skill in your child. Start early, and often!
“Over-control” is when well-meaning parents protect their children from the consequences of their mistakes by enforcing strict rules or by trying to oversee all aspects of a child’s life. There was a recent extreme case of “over-control” when a college student filed a restraining order against her parents, alleging that they required her to leave her computer’s web cam on all the time, so they could see what she was doing and who she was with day and night. Now, that’s a severe example, but even to lesser degrees, “over-control” can be dangerous.
Overly protected children are more likely to have problems with peer dependence, relationship conflicts, and difficulty setting and keeping firm boundaries. They also run the risk of having problems taking risks and being creative. Avoid that problem by handing your teenagers more degrees of control and allowing them to face the consequences of their decisions.
Let me give you a few examples:
- Allow your older teen the freedom to regulate their homework. Now, they may get an “F” on if they don’t turn it in. And if they get enough F’s, they will flunk the class. And if they flunk the class, they will have to make it up in summer school.
- Buy your teen an alarm clock and give them the responsibility to get up in time for school. They may have to walk to school, pay for a cab, or miss an entire day when they don’t get up in time to make the bus. If they miss school, they miss the fun after school or this weekend as well. Don’t write the excuse note that gets them out of the consequences.
- Your teen gets sent to detention, then let them miss the football game on Friday night, as well.
- Every year, allow your child more privacy on the Internet. But if they choose to use the Internet to post an inappropriate image or lifestyle, disconnect the computer for a period of time.
- Should your teen be arrested, let them sit in jail for awhile. Don’t bail them out right away. The consequence of spending a night in jail can have a sobering affect on their thinking and force them to reevaluate their life’s direction.
- If your teenager is ticketed for speeding, not wearing their seat belt, being out past the local curfew, or other infractions of the law, let them figure out how to pay the fine, as well as how to get to work or school the next day, since you will not let them use their car, or yours either.
- Give your teen the privilege of helping to pay for their insurance and gas when they are ready to start driving. Don’t even get them their license until they can pay their portion of the first quarter of insurance.
- Pay for your child’s college as long as they maintain their grades at a level you both agree on prior. If their grades become unsatisfactory, then they have to pay for the next semester.
- Give your pre-teen a checkbook, or a debit card with their monthly allowance on it. If they spend their money foolishly, don’t buy them the things they need. Let them figure out how to pay for those things. Doing without teaches the importance of sticking to a budget.
- Cancel your cable or the Internet service if viewing inappropriate content is a problem for your teen. Loss of that media is an appropriate consequence that will help them in the long run.
Listen; you are not being a bad parent by allowing these appropriate consequences to follow your teen’s actions. In fact, you are helping your child learn valuable life lessons, and grow into a mature adult. That’s being a good parent! Every culture on earth has a similar proverb like this one: If you rescue them once, you will just have to rescue them again. Don’t swoop in and rescue your kid when they are face-to-face with the outcome of a bad decision.
Are you willing to start relinquishing control and helping your teenager find out who he is and who God desires for him to be? This doesn’t mean you stop helping your child. But it does mean that you guide them into a problem-solving process, even if you don’t solve problems for them. You may have to repeat this process several times before your teen gets it right, so hang in there. Eventually he or she will get it, learn how to make good decisions, and avoid unwanted consequences. And that’s sweet music to any parent’s ears!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas. For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website. It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent. Go to www.heartlightministries.org. Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com. You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173. Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.