I continue to be a big fan of the good doctors at Love and Logic, who preach the power of natural consequences. Their wisdom resonates identically with parents of toddlers and parents of teens. It is agonizing, watching our kids suffer the results of their actions, but it is worth it. Every single time, they grow and learn and take one giant leap toward responsible adulthood.
A Cautionary Tale of Consequences: Here's a Good One for You.
A young man in Denver, Colorado rushed home one afternoon to put the final touches on a scholarship application, due that very day. This high school junior is mature, well-spoken, bright. He does well in school, plays sports, works a steady job. He knows a lot of things about the great big world, but he didn't know (until this particular afternoon) about the importance of time zones.
This intrepid boy submitted his online application at 2:08 PM, happily in advance of his 4:00 deadline. His email was immediately rejected; the application process was closed; the website went blank. The deadline, of course, was 4:00 PM Eastern Standard Time (whereas our unwitting hero lives in the Mountain Time Zone). He missed out on the promise of a dream by eight minutes.
His mama might have lectured or blown her top. You can bet she envisioned thousands of dollars circling right down the drain; I am certain she has repeated, "eight lousy minutes" in varying tones of dismay to all her friends.
Instead, she recognized the shock and disappointment in her baby's eyes. She saw the resignation and regret--familiar to cynical adults--which fester when doors slam shut. She knew no one was more sorry than her son about the opportunity he had just missed. Instead of chiding him, instead of frantically emailing powerful people to finagle an extension, she took a deep breath along with him and carried on.
The lessons he learned were many, in that moment and in the following days. Natural consequences are a bitch. He will probably be more careful about deadlines hereafter. He is practicing the art of handling disappointment. Because he is young and gifted--and because the world is bountiful--he will have countless other opportunities. He faced frustration, panic and anger at himself and survived. He learned these feelings--like all feelings--are temporary.
To my way of thinking, there are few lessons more valuable for adolescents to learn. Feelings are temporary.
Agonize Less When Teens Falter. Enjoy More. They're Learning!
Love and Logic parents try to enjoy watching their toddlers make stupid mistakes. The natural consequences of these actions (repeat the parents to themselves behind clenched smiles) produce exactly the results we desire. Kids will only remember their coats if they have felt the chill of forgetting them, or their lunches if they have felt hunger pangs at noon.
Parents of teenagers, let's try to look at it the same way. One of the teenagers in my very own home accuses me of "loving it when kids get in trouble." He may have a point. I do enjoy watching teenagers face the music, be responsible, suffer the consequences of their idiotic actions. Nothing less will save them from themselves.
When we parents rush to solve their problems and rescue them from natural consequences, we deny our children the gift of learning how to fail.