There seems to be this strange shift in society today where we, collectively, have begun to give more credit to children than they deserve. Historically, adults have made the decisions and been the influential party in the direction of relevant culture and policy. Now, in some sort of weird, reality version of Lord of the Flies, we’ve begun to allow our children to dictate the tone of the conversation and set the framework for some very serious issues all of us will be impacted by.
Now, before I get into what I’m going to share with you today, allow me to explain a couple things, a disclaimer if you will. First, I do not believe children should make the rules or set the tone of adult conversations. This does not mean I don’t care about our kids or have empathy and/or compassion for their perspectives and experiences. Second, some of our children are very intelligent. There’s no denying that. Still, they lack the life experience required to fully understand the ramifications of their limited experience. Third, I am not of the mindset that children should be seen and not heard. I listen to my children (and the children in my community I have a responsibility for) every day. That said, I as the adult, make the decisions.
When I see children yelling at their parents in the grocery store and witness the parents giving into their demands, when I see children who have no clear adult role models in their lives make horrible mistakes, and when I see children at marches without a full understanding of the depth of the issues, I can’t help but think we are beginning to fail them.
So today, I thought I would cover some of the reasons we ought to be very careful of giving children more credit than they deserve. But this isn’t about whining and complaining about what “kids these days” are doing. No, what I want to give is some practical steps we, as men, can take to ensure that our children have a path to run on. After all, we will be asking them to lead one day. That day just isn’t today.
THE PATH OF LEAST RESISTANCE
The first issue that I want to bring up is that children will naturally take the path of least resistance. They don’t yet fully understand the law of sacrifice which states that you need to give up something today in order to have something better tomorrow. This makes sense. Children’s perspectives are limited only to what they have experienced. Which is not a whole lot since they’ve only been alive for a very short time frame.
They look for the easy answer, the short path, the surface level solution without a full understanding of how that solution will impact them and others in the long term. To be fair, plenty of adults do this too. And, I’m certainly not suggesting we take every adult’s recommendation. That said, adults have more experience to draw upon where they can look back on their life’s choice and realize where they fell short, what choices served them, and what choices hindered them. Kids just don’t have enough experience, responsibilities, and feedback to understand those principles.
Solution: We need to get our kids involved in experiences where they can fail. Society says we should not allow our children to fail. This is a problem because it leads them to believe they are invincible and incapable of failing. This, in turn, sets them up for a false sense of security. I’ve seen young adults buckle at the slightest sign of adversity simply because their parents told them they could do anything and everything, and that they were special, wonderful, and good at everything they’ve ever tried.
Lie after lie is perpetuated to these children and the ego comes with it simply because they haven’t been kicked in the pants enough.
This is the exact reason I get my kids involved in competitive sports. I want them to know what it’s like to fail, how to win, how to lose, and how to use the feedback of failure to learn and grow. I want them to understand what sacrifice looks like and that nothing in this world comes free or free from consequences.
NAIVETE AND IGNORANCE
This leads nicely into point number two which is that children see things through rose-colored glasses. They see things how they wish them to be, not as they actually are.
In short, children are overly optimistic and have a false sense of reality about how this world works. That’s obvious because they don’t know how it works and, more and more, parents are failing to teach them how it works. Couple that with the bubble wrap we insist on protecting our children with and it’s easy to see why and, at times, envy that youthful naiveté.
Look, don’t get me wrong, having hope is a wonderful thing but when it’s predicated on a delusion it becomes very dangerous. When you see one perspective, you’re missing the other 359 degrees that paint an entirely more accurate and realistic picture.
Solution: Get more involved in your children’s lives by teaching the good, the bad, and the ugly. You do no justice to your children by sheltering from the atrocities of the world. Talk with your kids about violence, how to protect themselves, money, sex, drugs, and all the things you wish to keep them from.
As adults, we keep these things from our children in hopes they won’t go near the things that will hurt them but all we’re really doing is attracting them to it even more. You cannot keep your kids from danger. It’s inevitable. But you can expose them to it (in controlled environments) so they have a clearer vision of the realities of life.
Armed with that information, they are more capable of making choices with all the facts at hand, not just the comfortable ones.
SELFISHNESS VS. SELFLESSNESS
The third and final point I want to make is that children are selfish. They operate from a position of scarcity. I understand why. When we look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we can see plainly that humans will need to fulfill certain needs before moving on to more advanced needs.
Children are naturally insecure because they are in exploration mode, trying to make sense of the experiences and world around them. Self-preservation becomes the priority over abundance for the people in their lives. They simply haven’t matured enough to lead others well. They can’t even lead themselves well.
Couple that with the fact that our youth have very little responsibility and accountability in their own lives. For the most part, there are no negative consequences for selfish behavior. Children are continually rewarded for taking care of themselves at the expense of others. It isn’t until they learn and see how operating as a team (whether in the family, sports, school, church, etc.) will serve everyone better than just themselves.
Solution: The solution is straightforward. Give children responsibility. Give them a pet to take care of. Make them earn the things they want. Make them responsible for an area or project around the house. Have them earn their way.
And, please, discipline your children when they do wrong. I know it’s not easy. No one wants to enforce the negative consequences of their children’s behavior. But you do them a disservice when you tell them that it’s okay to do dumb things over and over and over again. You hinder them, not help them when you do that. Do not come to their rescue. Let them sit in the shame of their choices. It sounds harsh when I put it like that. It’s not. It’s one of the most powerful learning opportunities you could give to a child.
As I wrap things up, I remind you that this is not a call to ignore what our children are experiencing and saying. It’s a call to spend more time and attention on them. That doesn’t mean that we bow down to their every wish and desire. It simply means that we act like the adults we are asking them to become by leading by example and doing the hard things we must in order to more fully prepare them for what is to come.
I realize Lord of the Flies is fictional work but I do believe it paints an eerily familiar scenario when we allow the kids to be the adults. Bottom line: they are incapable of doing so. That won’t always be the case unless we ignore our responsibilities as men to lead with guidance, love, direction, clarity, and paint an accurate picture of what it takes to be successful in life.
Allow your children to fail, teach your children the good and ugly reality of life, and give them the burden of responsibility. Only through these continual exercises will we allow them to develop into the adults we’ll one day be proud to follow.