The first stage of letting our kids steer their lives is like asking them to help us pull the family SUV out of the driveway. We’re giving them the sense that they’re in control, but we’re the ones with our foot on the brake and our hands an inch away from the steering wheel, just in case they try to reenact a scene from Fast and Furious.
We walk them through the steps of putting the car into reverse and we tell them which way to turn the wheel and when they’ve gone too far. They’re too short to see the mirrors so we double check that the neighbor’s yappy dog isn’t darting under the tires as we slowly back down the driveway. This stage is all about having fun, learning the basics and showing our children that we trust them.
In real life, we need to give our young children a sense of control over their lives, even if we’re really the ones with our hands on the steering wheel. They want to show us that they’re growing up. They want to do the things they see us do because they admire us. Examples include letting them choose from three options we’ve pre-selected; allowing them to pick out what to wear; and letting them break some rules every once in a while like eating junk food, staying up late or putting on makeup.
Giving control to our kids means they’re going to dent the fender every once in a while. We shouldn’t become angry when our well-intentioned child makes a mistake. We expect them to take a wrong turn, or veer too far one direction because children aren’t capable of driving their lives all on their own, just like they’re not capable of driving a car without our help. That’s why we keep our hands on the steering wheel and our foot on the break–not to eliminate mistakes, but to limit the extent of the mistakes.
Experiencing the consequences from bad decisions is a critical part of learning. If we remove every possibility for making a mistake we will raise gullible, helpless, weak-spined, narrow minded, unhealthy, self important, lazy fools. No parent wants this for their children, yet it is the natural result of over protection.
It’s tempting to overprotect because we think it makes life easier on our kids. But the truth is we often overprotect to make life easier on ourselves. We don’t want to deal with the crying when things go wrong.
Overprotection is a short term strategy. Imagine standing in the middle of a fast moving river, trying to hold a boat still. Eventually, the boat will get away and float downstream. Soon, it’s around the bend and out of sight. But if we swim along side the boat, we have a much better chance of changing its direction, pushing it around rocks, gullies, and away from streams that lead to man-eating-alligators.
Whether we want it to happen or not, our children are going to grow up. We can force them to sit in the back seat for a while, but eventually they’re going to figure out that they have more control over their lives than we’ve been letting on. Far better to invite them into the drivers seat every once in a while, let them make a few mistakes and be there to provide guidance when they do. That way, we position ourselves as a coach and friend, allowing us the opportunity to speak into their lives well into adulthood.
The second stage of letting kids steer is covered in my next post: Stage 2, the backseat driver.
About Justin Blaney
Justin Blaney is the #1 bestselling author of Evan Burl and the Falling. He’s a blogger at JustinBlaney.com and I4J.org, the creator of Isfits, and a film producer with Inkliss. He lives outside Seattle with his wife and three daughters. Connect with Justin on Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter or Youtube.