Before you had kids of your own, you knew parental love was something special. However, there was no way for you to fully understand it until you became a parent yourself. It’s probably the only type of love that has no limits or boundaries whatsoever.
Because we love our kids so much, it’s hard for any parent to watch their kids fail, or face the difficult consequences of their own behavior. We want our kids to grow into happy, productive, responsible adults, but getting them to that point is the the ultimate challenge. Sadly, wanting your kids to succeed at life and wanting to protect them from themselves can sometimes fly in opposition to each other. This is why it’s important to allow our kids — whenever possible — to suffer the natural consequences of their own actions.
What are Natural Consequences?
Teaching responsibility by natural consequences is a technique used not only by successful parents, but also therapeutic boarding schools. Whenever we choose to do (or NOT do) something, there is a consequence. If you let the dishes pile up in the sink, you’ll eventually have a bigger mess to clean up. If your teenager stays up until 1:30 AM, he’ll have trouble getting out of bed and be tired all day.
It’s completely normal for parents to worry about your kids and their failures. It’s a natural response to want to shield them from the harsh realities of life. But instead of bemoaning the natural results of certain behaviors, try to look at those consequences as an opportunity for your child or teen to learn a valuable lesson about cause and effect. Allowing consequences to naturally occur is a great tool for teaching discipline and responsibility.
At Boarding School
Many therapeutic boarding schools use natural consequences as a method for teaching responsibility. For example, they can’t force a troubled teen to show up for class or participate in social activities. But if they miss class, their grades will suffer (potentially leading to additional, logical consequences). If they decide to stay in their room instead of going to the dance, they’ll miss out on making friends and having fun.
Natural consequences are an important part of life. If teens learn the reality of cause and effect in non-dire circumstances, they are more likely to make wise decisions when it really counts. Natural consequences teach responsibility without a teacher or parent levying punishment. That makes them a very effective teaching tool, because any blame to be suffered rests squarely on their own shoulders — just like real life.
On the other hand, a natural consequence of your teenage daughter sleeping in is that she’ll be late for school and miss the chance to see her friends in the morning. A less obvious natural consequence of leaving her dirty clothes on her bedroom floor is that only what’s in the hamper gets washed, and she’ll eventually run out of clean clothes. You may also decide to let her do her own laundry. But if she fails to do so, that’s on her — not you. See what a relief natural consequences can be?
Of course it goes without saying that natural consequences, like anything else, has its limits. If those natural consequences could cause serious harm to herself or others, it’s appropriate for you to intervene. Safety first!
Do Them a Favor – Don’t Bail Them Out
When your teen gets in trouble at school or otherwise makes some bad choices, the first impulse of many parents is to rise to their defense and take care of things for them. If your son or daughter is facing detention or suspension at school, resist the temptation to get defensive on their behalf. If they really screwed up, they should face the music. Parents who shield their children from the natural consequences of their own actions aren’t doing them any favors. Kids who are bailed out only learn that they’re exempt from the rules, or that they don’t have to be responsible for their own actions.
If you’ve done your best to teach your teen responsibility through natural consequences and other means, but they still exhibit a pattern of bad decisions, don’t be afraid to get some help. There may be some other issues at play for your troubled son or daughter. If so, psychological and behavioral therapy or even therapeutic boarding school may be in order. Only you and a trusted expert can decide what’s best for your teen in your unique situation.