Helping kids choose wisely is no easy feat. They might be our kids, but rest assured, they have their own minds.
Kids have a very short-term view of the world. They tend to only look to the fun or payoff of the moment. They don’t think past that moment to where that choice might lead. Rules and boundaries can sometimes seem restrictive, stifling and overprotective.
Take my daughter Molly. She’s a thrill seeker. I love her adventurous spirit. But I’ve learned I have to help her reign it in now and then. I remember a few years back, we were at the beach as a family. Molly, then-13, had brought a few of her friends along.
After a little while, she came up to us and asked, “Can we go jump off that bridge?” She motioned to the end of the dock that extended into the ocean. Molly said it nonchalantly like she was asking something innocuous like “Can I walk to the neighbor’s?” Her friends crowded around and anxiously waited for our reply.
“Uh. Nooooo,” my husband said in his “What? Are you crazy?” voice.
Molly turns to her friends: See?! I knew it. We should have just done it!
Then she turned her attention to her thrill-kill parents: Why?! Why can’t we?! It’s perfectly safe! People do it all the time! We talked to some guys over there who’ve done it and they said they’ll jump with us!
So, with the hearty and highly valuable endorsement of “some guys over there,” we gave them our blessing. Not.
Dad: Okay, so if someone told you to jump off a bridge, you’d do it? That’s comforting.
Molly: Dad!! Come on … watch! You’ll see other people doing it. It’s really safe!
Me: Well, no one is getting paralyzed on our watch. You don’t have to jump off a bridge to have fun at the beach.
Molly: Yes, you do!
My daughter’s fun-loving, risk-taking nature collided with her teenage thirst for freedom and feelings of invincibility.
Whatever their ages, kids generally push against boundaries. Our challenge is to help them understand that God gives us boundaries for our protection and to give us freedom. Freedom from being enslaved to addictions, freedom from physical and emotional harm. Freedom from the separation from Him that we feel when we insist on doing it our way.
So how do we teach our kids that boundaries bring freedom? It’s not always easy, but here are a few things that I’ve found useful in helping kids choose wisely:
Sadly, there are plenty of cautionary tales out there – in Hollywood, among our kids’ classmates and in their communities – about young people who have made unwise choices and are reaping tragic consequences.
It’s important to open dialogue with our preteens and teens by asking questions like, “What do you think about their choices?” and “What do you think led them to make those choices?” Helping them make the connection between seemingly “fun” choices and the bondage and danger those decisions lead to — on their own — is so important. Especially with teens. Hysterical or judgmental lectures don’t work (not that I’ve ever done that, of course).
I’ve learned that always communicating love as the primary reason for giving them a consequence makes a huge difference in their attitude about their offense. They may be angry or upset at the consequence, but when they’re confident that the motive is love, I’ve noticed their hearts soften much more quickly. (Sometimes I have to wait until I feel a little more loving to communicate this effectively.)
Share your journey.
Kids aren’t the only ones who make mistakes and reap consequences. Especially as my kids have gotten older, I’ve been more open with them (without giving unnecessary detail) about what God is doing in my life and some of the painful lessons I’ve learned the hard way.
Emphasize God’s faithfulness.
In addition to talking with them about what God is doing in my life, I also encourage them to pray (and pray with them) about all the little obstacles throughout the day. Bringing Him into their daily experiences and concerns emphasizes His love for them and concern about the details of their lives.
Our kids have free will. They make their own choices and will make their own mistakes. We aren’t always going to be able to talk them back from the edge.
But with God’s help, we can help our kids to look before they leap.
That’s where the true freedom lies.