A few Teen Commandments about allowing children the freedom to learn:
"Don't be overprotective."
"Thou shall let us make our own mistakes"
"Let us learn from our own mistakes."
"Thou shalt not worry about EVERYTHING."
When I was little, my mother told me a story about a little boy whose mother fretted about germs and didn't let him get dirty. The boy was always sick, and finally the mother asked her doctor what to do. "Roll the kid around in the dirt," the doctor said. "He has no immunity. Let him go. Let him have fun. Let him get dirty." I've always remembered this story. We don't grow and get strong if we aren't given the chance to explore, fall down, mess up, and get up again.
I'm not going to say, "Don't hover," because there are appropriate times to hover, such as your child learning to ride a bike or teaching your toddler a new behavior like going to the store without making a scene. When they're teenagers, discussing the do's and don'ts of dating, abstinence and even birth control is essential because some issues are just too huge to be left to chance. Certainly there are times you have to watch them like a hawk, but it can be overdone. Not everything is a huge issue, and the hovering can become smothering.
The media has created an environment of fear for parents. As a result, many parents overprotect, and the kids grow up resenting all the restrictions and the lectures. Kids know they need to rub up against the world and get some dirt under their fingernails. We have to give them some credit. Research shows that after age 7, if a kid has been raised with love, discipline, and respect, he or she is a natural humanitarian: She wants to do what is right, he is proud of his good choices.
Yes, mistakes will happen; our kids will experience pain. But we parents have to realize that making mistakes is a kid's birthright. Kids want opportunities to make their own mistakes and learn from them. They want the responsibility and consequences. However, all too often parents hover and rescue. Watching our child face disappointment, obstacles and opposition makes us sad and scared, but that is our problem, not the kid's. And the truth is that the child will internalize a life lesson every single time a conflict occurs.
In the course of writing this article, I asked a friend who is a father of teens what comes to mind when he thinks of "overprotective parents." Immediately he said, "My sister. My parents didn't allow her to date during high school; it was absolutely forbidden. They refused to talk to her about sex until she was 18. So while her friends were dating and having experiences, she felt like an absolute freak."
"What kind of message does that send to the kid?" I asked, thinking the obvious message was a lack of trust.
"It gave her the message that they believed she was weak," he said to my surprise, "and my sister struggles with mental illness as an adult. Please tell your readers that overprotection can seriously affect a child's future life."
Sure, we have to protect our kids from real dangers. At the same time, we must allow them the freedom to grow into strong, responsible people. We must allow them to develop an immune system of values that protects them
This can only be done with immediate experience, choosing right and wrong, grappling with the real challenges of real life.
Our children need our trust and our belief in them as good people - especially when they make mistakes. Doing this right takes skill.
Examples of non-verbal praise:
WinkThumbs Up"High 5"Smile
NodPat on Shoulder
Examples of verbal praise:
"I'm proud of your effort!"
"You really showed sportsmanship."
"I can see real improvement here."
"I have just the thing to get out those stains!"
So fold up the helicopter, fold out the lawn chair, smile and let them play in the dirt. Forget the fear, ditch the lecture, and let parenting be the true joy it was meant to be.
is a teacher, parent, and author. Her father,
, is an educational consultant in the area of school discipline. Together, with the insights of Mary's teenaged students, they have put together a powerful, comprehensive guide to instilling and reinforcing positive, respectful behavior in children.
Discipline Me Right
is available through Amazon.com and your local bookstore. For more parenting tips and information about the book, visit
. Permission Granted for use on Dr.Laura.com.