Parents tend to base a lot of their parenting decisions and philosophies on experiences from their childhood. This makes a lot of sense–we are products of our life experiences. People sometimes want to do things just as their parents did and sometimes want to be the opposite of their parents. Many times we think and say, “I did [didn’t do] XYZ and I turned out just fine!”
Here is the trouble. Our world is so vastly different than it was when we were kids. As parents, we are parenting in areas no other generation has had to worry about before. We are at an extreme disadvantage in things (like cell phone policy) because we don’t have an older, wiser generation to turn to for advice. We are the pioneers.
In many cases, I think our world has often over-corrected itself. We hear about one kid getting hurt in some random way 3,000 miles from us and we suddenly no longer allow our child to do that anymore and think any other parent doing it is surely neglectful (or at best ignorant of the peril they are exposing their child to).
The book Free Range Kids talks about this overcorrection and suggests we need to allow our children some freedom to be children like we were all able to be once. In general, I really like the book and agree with much of what she says. I do think we have too much news coverage so we know the most bizarre and random ways things can go wrong in our lives. Never mind the millions who have done the same thing without incident. Nothing is safe anymore.
But the problem with the idea of having “free range” children is that the world is different now. When we were children, we had to go looking for trouble. We had to search it out. Today temptations are ever-present for our children and trouble goes looking for them!
So we need to safe guard our children. We need to figure out how to give our children the freedom and growing experiences they need while still protecting them as they need protection.
Part of doing this is having family rules and standards. As individual families, we need to decide what we are comfortable with. How far can our children ride their bikes alone? Can they have sleepovers? Can they use the computer unsupervised? Can they participate in various media at friends’ homes? We need to think through these issues so we can pray about solutions and help fortify our children against the “trouble” looking for them.
Standards will be different for every family, and that is okay. That doesn’t mean you need to feel defensive if your family standards seem more strict than Suzie’s family standards. That doesn’t mean Betty is a bad parent if her standards seem lax to you. Decide on your standards–feel free to consult friends, neighbors, and family–and then be secure in what you have decided is right for your family.
As you are deciding on standards, remember to focus on principles rather than a laundry list of rules. You will never be able to foresee every temptation your child will face. You need to teach your child correct principles so he can govern himself when you are not around. This will be done day to day as you are present in his life.
And don’t wait until your child is actually old enough to be out in the world to start teaching these standards. Start as young as your child is now. Dr. Glenn J. Doman, noted author and medical authority, said that “What is placed in the child’s [mind] dudring the first eight years of life is probably there to stay.” He also said the most receptive age in life is 2-3 years old. Do not wait to teach correct principles! This is why we teach young. This is why discipline is important from a young age.
Another note, teach correct principles, but don’t hesitate to have rules in place to offer extra protection. No one, no matter how good they are, is immune to making mistakes. You can teach correct principles in computer use, but you can offer extra protection by having the computer in a place with heavy traffic flow in the family. This will help ensure no one in the family mis-uses the computer. It will also ensure that if trouble finds your child on the computer, he will be more inclined to turn trouble away rather than visit it for a time.
And another note, don’t be afraid to change rules. Maybe you initially decide to allow sleepovers. Then after a time, you feel like sleepovers are not a good idea. You can change your family policy to no sleepovers. Will the children be upset? I am sure they will! But don’t let that stop you from changing rules if they need to be changed any more than you ever let a two year old tantrum get your child candy at the grocery store.
As you are parenting, keep in mind that we live in a world where trouble finds us now. We need to strengthen our children appropriately. We need to have family rules, policies, and standards appropriately. We need to be prayerful continually for our children and for ourselves.
And I don’t want to scare you into keeping your child locked indoors until his 18th birthday. Not at all. I just want us to be wise in our parenting.
For more articles discussing these issues, see: