It’s completely mama-instinct to protect our young and lick their wounds. They hurt, we hurt and the biology of this doesn’t change as our babies grow. But there comes a time in their lives we should no longer protect our kids from natural consequences and here’s why.
The reality of life is that every action – regardless of whether it’s a heroic deed or crime – comes with a reaction. It’s up to you whether we’ll call this concept the law of physics or karma but there’s a consequence from every action, good or bad.
In guiding a teen through maturity from child to young adult, your role is to monitor their experiences and attempts at new things. Being proactive and teaching them how to make good choices so they can act well and avoid actions with dire outcomes is part of it. Rescuing them each and every time they fall is not. Reality bites and sometimes when things don’t go swimmingly there can be awkward and unpleasant consequences for your teen. This sucks, but it’s life.
Choosing not to rescue your teen isn’t child abuse. It does not mean you are going to throw them under the bus. (Proverbially of course.) it will not make you the worst parent evvvvvvvvvver (insert door slam and eye roll here.) It’ll actually help them enormously in the long run.
Here are a couple of scenarios that show while rescuing your teen would be tempting, it wouldn’t be helpful for their developing independence.
Scenario 1: FOMO on the school trip
A school excursion has been organised and they’ve left it until the morning of trip to ask your signature on the permission slip plus a magic trick to rustle up the payment.
There are no valid excuses, they’ve just not been bothered.
You don’t have any change, the ATM is not on the way to school and as you understand, school policy usually requires excursions to be finalised the week prior.
Phoning the school, begging the teacher for lenience (this time) and signing the form with promises of sending in some coin tomorrow might be something you’d do for a primary school student but not a teenager because your high schooler knows better and deserves to miss out on that field trip don’t you think?
Harsh? Not really, because honestly it’s only a relatively minor event and missing the excursion is a natural “punishment” that fits the “crime”… but, hey let’s call it a consequence to sound nicer!
Scenario 2: Letting the mates down
Imagine your teen is on school holidays. They’ve made plans to catch the bus to meet friends for a trip to the movies one morning. Because being on holidays is so much fun, they stay up all night playing computer games and sleep soundly through their alarm.
The very predictable and natural consequence of this is would be they miss the bus and are unable to see that movie session with their friends. If you were to rescue them by driving them to the mall just in time to catch the movie… like they might beg you to… it wouldn’t be a lesson in not staying up too late when you’ve made plans for the next morning!
A good option would be to help them explore alternative solutions – such as seeing if their friends are prepared to see a later movie or reschedule for another day. Maybe, they’ll just miss out as a straightforward and simple result of their disorganisation. Lesson learned!
Scenario 3: Slow down lead foot!
This could be one of your worst nightmares. Your newly P-plated driver was running late for work and photographed by a stationery police radar… driving well over the speed limit. The notice arriving in the mail is a big OUCH, indicating they’ve lost 3 of their 4 points and have a fine setting the bank account back a few hundred dollars.
Receiving this letter is the legal – and natural – consequence of being caught speeding. You’ve possibly dealt with this yourself as a driver too.
I know of some parents who’ve protected their frazzled and upset new driver by submitting a statutory declaration. They’ve claimed to be at the wheel themselves in order to bear to loss of points and cop the fine. I also know of parents, who’ve not needed to do this but think it’s reasonable and would take the same course of action.
Ok then, what’s so wrong with cutting your kid this kind of slack?
Well firstly, it’s against the law to sign and lodge a legally binding statement with false information and furthermore this is not modelling good citizenship… unless you want them to think it’s ok to disregard our laws and legal system.
Besides, facing this consequence (as tough as it may be for them) forces on them to reflect on the action and adjust their future behaviour (slow down for God’s sake). If they aren’t given a hefty boot up the bum about the consequences of driving beyond the speed limit, isn’t it quite likely they’ll repeat the behaviour? Worryingly, next time they, or other road users, may be not so lucky and the outcome of speeding can be fatal.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help them, not at all. If they’re not in a position to pay the fine by its due date and you can assist with this then lending them the money is very fair. As long as there’s a plan to repay you – and they still losing their driving points – is a fair option. But I urge you not to let them escape the penalty of losing their driving points.
Reasons to avoid bailing them out again and again…
- Getting them off the hook can lead to them getting hooked on the hope of being rescued
- If they never experience the consequences of their actions, they’ll never modify their ways.
- You’ll be forever spending your time and energy (and sometimes $$) on situations you have no responsibility for or control over
- They’ll always look to throw blame on others where they can
- What will they do the day you’re not there to do it?
Inevitably all kids will have lapses of judgment and at the end of the day what will be, shall be.
Accept their mistake(s), what’s done can’t be reversed. Reaffirming your unconditional love, supporting through the steps they’ll need to take to made amends and standing by them while they face the music isn’t always easy, but a necessary thing to do.
PS. I’ve written more about this in my upcoming book, being released in the coming months, so stay tuned for news!