Its Time to Stop Controlling Kids
June 18, 2014 4 Comments
Leslie Loftus wrote an article over Father’s Day weekend that struck me strongly, and as right. The thing we’re not teaching our kids is judgement, I see it nearly everyday with young guys at work, they always have to have someone’s approval before doing the simplest thing, to the point that they are a supervisor’s nightmare–they literally can’t see work in front of their face. Leslie has some idea why, so read her article.
Gen Xers often joke—on Facebook, naturally—about how much trouble we would have wreaked if our youthful stupid mistakes had gone viral. But what could have mortified us 20 years ago we handled by destroying photos and negatives. Photo burning was a staple of late 90’s bachelorette parties.
Contrast that with the Dropbox porn story coming out of Virginia, in which two boys put a bunch of nude or semi-nude photos of female fellow students on Dropbox and passed around the password. A little flash nudity has been a staple of Truth or Dare games for generations. What’s new is the capture and distribution capability—and the children unprepared for its consequences. Today we have no simple fix to save these girls from crisis or, perhaps, the boys from incarnation.
After one of these events, a chorus begins to ask, “Where were the parents?” But I often wonder about the teens. How could they possibly think these acts were a good idea? Or put another way, for how long do we think parental supervision is the answer?
I don’t ask to assign blame, but to focus on the problem at hand. Controlling the Internet isn’t an option—not legally, not logistically. Sufficient supervision isn’t possible. I have tried every Internet filter variation, including prohibition. They all have exploitable flaws. We will have to teach children to use judgment.
But modern parents don’t like judgment. We like control. Some parents brave culture for their children, clearing all obstacles. Other parents set all the rules and boundaries for their children. In both cases, parents substitute their judgment for their children’s and leave each of them vulnerable to life.
Modern parents don’t like judgment. We like control.Stories of how well children of helicopter parents fare in the adult world are reaching legend. Some homeschoolers get heartache when their carefully pruned broods rebel. Similarly, many Christian denominations are puzzled by the trend of the young leaving the church, with only a fraction returning later and usually to more traditional Catholic or Anglican traditions.
She’s right but I don’t think she has it thought all the way through. Judgement comes from initiative taken–and consequences paid. You’ll hear many of us of my generation relate how we were told after breakfast (in the summer) “Go out and play, I don’t want to see you till lunch”. Those stories are true. Our parents trusted us not to, not get into trouble, they knew we would, but to figure out how to get back out. They trusted us to show responsibility for ourselves first in small things, like entertaining ourselves. They also knew that we, and they, would pay a price, usually in cuts and scrapes, occasionally in more serious things. About those cuts and scrapes, I can still hear Dad saying, “I didn’t feel a thing.” He wasn’t callous, if I hurt myself, he was all for fixing the hurt but he gave me room, to get a minor scrape or 20. And most importantly, to learn the lesson.
He never did anything that sapped my initiative, either. When I was about four, I managed to jack up an old car that was out behind the house, and take off a tire. He certainly didn’t praise me for it (I do suspect he was a bit proud, but thought it shouldn’t be encouraged), what he did was, at the earliest opportunity, remove the car, before I
hurt killed myself. Similarly, since he was mowing 5 acres of yard, being a boy, I wanted to mow, about that same time he came up with a little riding mower, removed the blade, and designed an electric start system for it. Well I still couldn’t mow, but I could pretend, with real tools, and I did. I’ll bet I put 5,000 miles on that ‘tractor’. And by the time I was ten, I fulfilled my quest, mowing the yard was primarily my responsibility, and you know something it was fun too. I still enjoy mowing, it reminds me of my childhood.
And one final example, like most people living in the country, dad had a shotgun, for all the uses we talk about, except that he wasn’t a hunter, he knew enough to, he just didn’t care for it. Growing up watching westerns, you know how much I wanted to play with that old .410! It was one of very few things forbidden, with serious consequences for violations, another was playing in the road. They were all things that could kill you. But about the time I was seven, on Christmas, there was that Daisy “Red Ryder” in all it’s glory. It came with a very serious lecture on firearms safety, and the promise that there were no second chances for violations. Even at seven, I knew those lectures were reserved for things that had real, life and death, consequences, and acted accordingly. When I was ten, it was followed by a .22, with a more advanced lecture involving the explosion of a watermelon. Lesson learned, to this day, a half century later, I have never had a firearms accident (except for breaking a stock when I fell down an ice hill).
What am I saying here, is simply this: You cannot teach judgement, you can only learn it. I always put it this way
Good judgement comes from experience
Experience come from bad judgement,
Here’s another part of that, I’ve said how I grew up around dad’s work and crews, especially as an early teen. One of the things I saw was this. The company got a report on every fatal accident in a rural electric in the United States, we all read them, and some formed the basis of safety meetings Thusly we learned not what to do but, what not to do, and we were all safer people for it.
And that is how you teach the two things that are lacking in most young people (and it is not their fault, in my opinion). Good judgement and initiative. Leslie’s right but she doesn’t go far enough. All kids have initiative, our challenge as parents and adults is to channel it and not destroy it.
A child needs room to learn, even by failure, even by losing, that’s how one learns to win and to pay the price for either. It’s the parent’s job to control the environment just enough to keep the costs of failure within bounds.
And do understand this, if you are a parent, you are your child’s hero.