I was a teacher in another chapter of life, a high school teacher, and I loved it. I get sentimental around this time of year, and then I remember. . . it was a tapestry of hard work, new students and subject matter every hour, proud moments watching young people work together and learn new skills, and painful life lessons.
In that chapter, I was not a parent, but I was watching parents, learning how to be a parent myself some day. Newsflash, parents. Your teachers are watching you.
Are you going to allow your children to learn the bigger lessons they need to learn this year?
As a high school journalism teacher, one of the highlights of our year was going to the state newspaper and yearbook competition. Now while I know writing headlines within a certain word count or creating an irresistible lead for a sports article may not be thrilling to you, you can probably understand that three days on a college campus away from parental authority was quite enticing for my nerdy newspaper and yearbook students.
The rules were clear. We were there to learn, work hard, maybe win a few awards, and have a few minutes of fun, but not too much fun. That guideline worked for most of my do-good students, but one exceedingly bright freshman needed a little more excitement than what I had planned for in their tightly scheduled weekend. So he found a foolish adult at a convenience store to buy him half-a-dozen adult beverages and brought it up the hotel elevator undisguised. To his surprise, his student editor saw him with his contraband refreshments and quickly reported the infraction to her naive leader (me).
The fact that the kid decided to spread his wings and test his authority was not surprising.
What was surprising was the parents’ response when I explained what the consequences would be to their gifted, yet foolish, son. They would not allow the natural consequences that their son deserved. They argued that those consequences were for someone else, not their son. They challenged that I probably had done the same thing when I was his age. And sadly, they missed the opportunity for their son to experience a little bit of discomfort and inconvenience to learn an important life lesson about living within boundaries that are designed for your safety and your good.
The lesson I learned was that parents can get in the way of growth when we prevent painful consequences.
Now, don’t worry, I’m a huge fan of grace. I need it on the daily. However, part of the dance of parenting with purpose is making the most of the opportunities to grow the heart and character of our kids. And sometimes allowing natural consequences is part of lovingly helping our kids to realize their foolishness and make a different decision next time.
- You’re on your way to work, and your daughter texts that she forgot her lunch on the counter–again. Do you turn around, knowing you’ll be late to work, to rescue her from a few hours of hunger?
- Your son told you that he studied for the test, yet the progress report says otherwise, and now he is ineligible to play in the football game this weekend. Do you assume the class must be too hard or the teacher unfair? Or do you ask your son how he studied for the test and help him learn the study skills that work best for him?
- The teacher calls to say that your child is bullying other kids on the playground and will miss recess for the next two days. Do you argue that she “needs” recess or come alongside your child to see how the other kids feel because of her actions?
As adults, we know that if we drive too fast (and get caught) there will be money to pay. We understand that if we miss paying a bill on time there will be a short-term penalty but maybe even a long-term hit to our credit. Consequences are meant to change behavior in the future.
So why would we not want our kids to learn those lessons while they are young?
It might hurt a little, cause temporary embarrassment for them (and us?). But in the long run, lovingly allowing natural consequences will result in better decisions the next time and hopefully character that demonstrates responsibility and wisdom. Maybe going hungry at lunch for a day isn’t the end of the world after all.