Raising kids becomes more interesting as they age since they want to assert their independence with decisions and actions that can border on the insane. The question is, when to permit their efforts at independence and when to pick your battle and reassert your authority?
Adolescence is that period between childhood and adulthood when the body undergoes puberty and grows, changing dramatically. Even after the body has ceased growing however, the brain is continuing to change and won’t stop until later. Several years ago, scientists revised the upper bound age of adolescence to twenty-five years to reflect that there are portions of the brain that are continuing to change until then. Unfortunately, the last part of the brain to develop into maturity is that segment that controls risk assessment and judgment.
The choice is simple when they’re young. Your working assumption is that they haven’t got a clue and are going to have to do as you say. But they grow and you have to decide when you think that they do have a clue and that alters the assumption accordingly. You’d think after several years of school that they’d understand the meaning of cold weather or the danger of trying to learn unicycle-riding on a brick retaining wall. But they don’t.
So what are my guidelines on deciding when to let them learn on their own, versus gearing up for an argument?
- Is there a reasonable chance of injury to themselves or others, such as tossing a lead pipe as a baton or riding on said retaining wall? And by this, I mean significant injury beyond a cut or scrape. There’s a reason that kids aren’t supposed to jump off at the swing’s apogee or playing with fireworks.
- Is the child going to do something that goes beyond embarrassing and make a royal ass of himself – or you? A little embarrassment can be a good objective lesson, but humiliation is something different and it’s your responsibility to try to ascertain the difference.
- Is there a risk of causing property damage, such as chucking rocks at a spot next to the car parked next door.
It’s with these criteria that I entered the pre-Christmas weekend. After purchasing the past two trees from a local fire company, we traveled with friends to a Christmas Tree Farm to cut our own again. It was snowing when we left and while the kids made good decisions on footwear – I now know that Youngest had a spurt and needs another size snowboot – they argued on coats. Tony Hawk jackets and hoodies are now cool for kids and despite having heavier coats that could be worn, one opted not to wear it. This was the time that we found that another had lost the heavy winter coat. We decided not to force the coat issue and let the child wear the Autumn weight Hawk jacket to the farm as we chose and cut the Frasier Fir. The one who lost the coat would have to deal with it until it could be replaced.
Why? There was no likelihood that wearing a too-light jacket would violate any of the above criteria. Yes, the kids could become cold but they had the option of getting back in the minivan if that happened. And this was supposed to be a family event that they’d remember and carry with them. And with two inches down and more falling, it was memorable; why ruin that because they were making a bad choice? As it was, they all stayed outside for the selection and cutting of the tree but at least one remarked that next year, they’d have to wear a heavier coat.