Consequences - Where to draw the line with our kids

Parents are often talking about consequences with their kids.  More often than not, these discussions regress into threats that follow the all to familiar script of,  "If you don't do what I am telling you to do right now, you will be punished!"  According to Dr. Medhus in her book, "Raising Children Who Think for Themselves", this approach only teaches our kids to be afraid of us and does not prepare them to make their own, well thought out decisions in the future.  Her advice, is to let our kids make their own choices and they will learn what is right and wrong by dealing with the consequences of those choices.  The well worn example of the child sticking his finger into a flame is wheeled out to prove her point.  We can protect our child from getting hurt by reaching out and pulling them back from the candle before they are burned.  But, won't the boy or girl have a more memorable learning experience by burning their finger and will therefore be more likely to remember that fire is hot the next time?

Thinking for oneself is a highly sought after skill by employers.  If the boss can count on your child to solve his or her own problems at work then the boss will be less stressed.  We don't want our kids constantly looking to their peers and co-workers for direction without some sort of internal compass to help them judge what is best.

Where I disagree with the good doctor though is in the application of her consequences method.  She recommends pulling back and letting our kids make their own mistakes in situations where the actual consequences are irrelevant to our kids and worse those mistakes might have a lasting impact on their lives.  Specifically, homework and studying for a test.  If my daughter does not study for her test she will have to face the consequence of getting a bad grade.  What exactly is the consequence of a bad grade for an 11 year old?  Nothing!  It means she can skip studying for a night and chat with her friends instead. The test is finished in less than an hour and she can go on with her life.  It is all good!  By not studying, she is learning that she can be more popular and have more fun.  As grown-ups, we know that homework, tests and ultimately grades, are important in this society for getting into good schools and passing screening when applying for a job.  Many college kids don't get that until it is too late.

So, sure, we want our kids to think for themselves but we don't want them to shoot themselves in the foot while they are doing it.  There are plenty of situations (every day!) where our kids can make their own decisions and face short term consequences that will help them learn.  But, for the decisions that will affect their future we owe it to them to be more involved and yes, to make threats occasionally too.