Another in Series of Letters from Concerned Parents
(If you would like to submit a question for Mac to answer please feel free to post your question at the bottom of the page!)
What Should Parents Do When Children Make Mistakes
The reason I've written to you is because tonight my 14 year old son took our others son's car for a joy ride with a few of his friends, one of whom has a drivers license. Our son was driving when they rear-ended another car causing some minor damage to the other car, but also doing about $800 damage to our car. Rather than see our son get busted for driving without alicense, the boy with the driver's license told the policeman that he was driving and he got a citation for leaving the seen of an accident.
I think they all should tell the truth, perhaps relieving the kid of his ticket and forcing my son to face the natural consequences of his decisions. What do you think? I await your response.
Concerned Mom(From Canada)
Deciding Exactly WHAT You Want To Teach Your Children
My answer to your question begins with a question. Thise is your son and you must ask yourself, "What do I wish to teach my son?" The answer to that question will most likely answer your question for you!
If you wish to teach your children that honesty is always the best policy, then there is little choice to be made. If you wish to teach your children that when they are in a fix that the best policy is to try to alter the outcome of poor decisions by distorting the truth or lying outright about what has happened, then you have other choices available to you!
Once You Have Decided… The Strategy Is Often Very Obvious
You know your values and you know what you want your kids to do, be, or have. If these were my children and this was my decision to make, this would be a very easy decision to make. I would have my child go to the authorities and tell them exactly what happened, including the falsification of the facts in having another kid falsely claim to be the driver. The consequences of this mistake that the "system" dealt out would be taken and supported by me. If the court decided that a suspension of driving privileges was in order, I would support it. If the court mandated a fine, I would see to it that my son had to come up with the money to pay the fine. If the courts mandated restitution to the damaged party I would see to it that my son worked to pay them back.
Now, let's get to some of my advice for you if you are still with me on the message about honesty and accepting the consequences of our actions. The most common failure in cases like this is to assume that the societal consequences (punishment, sentencing, and fines) have taught a lesson. Those things do not teach! Often, they simply define the "game" and make kids more careful to not get caught the next time! But, those consequences rarely teach a child how to make a better decision the next time. That is your job!
An Opportunity To Teach
If this were my child I would simply view this event as a wonderful opportunity to teach decision-making skills and values! Be sure to understand, teaching a lesson of this nature would be much more difficult and time consuming. It is harder to teach a lesson about honesty than it is to just act disgusted or angry with your child. But teaching a lesson about how to apply honesty as a decision making tool would actually wind up changing your son for the better... forever! If you are interested in teaching it will involve a whole different set of tactics and here are some suggestions.
Deciding What You Want To Teach
1. I would start with a discussion of WHY we are a society of rules and laws. Freedom does not mean that there are no rules. Freedom means more rules... more rules that can be handled by individuals. The more rules we can handle without requiring the interference of government or police... the more freedom we have! This means that we must be honest if we make a mistake. That way the authorities do not have to get involved. Honesty by citizens insures a minimum of interference from government and maximum freedom for us all. Respect for private property means that our own property will be respected. Respect for rules and laws means that we can count on others to respect rules and laws. A stop sign is not an annoyance... it is an aid. A stop sign makes the behavior of others very predictable and safe. Driving with a license makes the roads safe for all. We must respect this law also.
In the case of your son’s accident, the lesson is that when a person causes damage to another’s property they must pay for the damage that they do. If they break a law they must serve the penalty that the law mandates.
Home Is a Safe Place To Bring Problems
Teaching Opportunities Rather than Just Mistakes
2. Next, I would jump on this as an opportunity to teach my child that our home is a place where we all bring our mistakes and learn from them. I would show my child by my actions that mistakes in judgment are common among us all but the key is to learn from our mistakes and to be sure to not repeat the mistakes. To let my actions speak I would have to refrain from anger or outbursts of emotion. I would have to be reasoned and calm in my answers and discussions.
Making Decisions Ahead of Time
3. Next, I would try to teach my child that intelligence is a valuable commodity but that it is almost worthless in the “heat of battle”. Most of the really critical and big decisions in life must be made BEFORE you are in the situation. I would begin to enter into discussions with my kids about some of the anticipated situations they might encounter in the near future and begin to go through with them some of the wise decisions that they can make ahead of time.
Create Opportunities To Teach Before Any Crisis Exists
4. Next, I would try to engage my sons regularly in various kinds of games and sports to establish a relationship of trust between them and me so that in the future they would not see me as someone to deceive or someone to get away with things. I would try to establish that if they ever were in doubt about something they could ask me and I would listen and not blow up but rather I would be a source of sound advice.
Teach Some General Rules for Making Decisions for Use in Unexpected Circumstances
5. Next, I would try to establish some general rules of conduct for my child to use if they found themselves in a tough spot with a tough decision before them. Simple rules like: "is this the right thing to do?" "Is this fair to all concerned?" "Will this build better relationships?" "Is this legal?" "Is this healthy?" etc.
Teach Children Some "Sure Fire" Ways to Remove Themselves from Difficult Situations
6. Finally, I would make sure that my kids had a sure fire way to get out of difficult situations. In our family, we had a "secret word." I told my kids that if they were ever in a tough situation they could call me and just say the secret word and somehow give the address (fake like you are ordering pizza or something) and I would show up and get them out of the situation, no questions asked.
In the case of your son’s accident, you would not have been able to get him out of the situation. The damage of the wreck was done. But, you could have gotten there in time to help him decide how he would deal with the difficult circumstances.
(Please note that all that I have done in the course of answering this question for this mother was to apply the principles of our Parenting with Dignity Curriculum. Wouldn't it help you to have a copy of a set of guidelines for making the big decisions about raising your children?)
Good luck with your actions with your boys. Please let me know how things go for you.