At what point should I start letting my kids make their own decisions and living with the consequences?

There’s no doubt that as we look around at our culture, there are a lot of things to be concerned about as parents. There are a lot of things that can lead our kids astray. The internet, television, the influence of the media, just life at a street level can be tough. 

But you know, there is something we can do that can really set our kids to be drawn to those very things or become the real victims of those—and that is, cloistering our kids, pulling them away from it and raising them in highly safe, controlled environments. 

Now, before you think I’ve lost my mind, I want to step back and just give you one little principle here. 

Picture a rectangle. When our kids are young, that’s what I call the age of protection. Our job is to protect our kids. And then we also have a dynamic of preparing our kids. Picture this rectangle. Here are our kids’ lives: newborn, six, twelve, eighteen. When they are born, they can’t make any decisions for themselves. We have to really protect them from what they are exposed to and the people they are around and what they see on television, and so forth. 

But watch this. It gets to six years old, and you start to back that down, back it down, back it down. It gets down here to twelve, well, you still are making some choices, but you are handing a lot over to them. And then get on out there, and it goes a little bit beyond eighteen because you are still financially involved with them, maybe with college, but you are bringing them up to speed. It’s like that Indianapolis race, that 500. They have a pace car that brings those cars up to speed before they give them a green flag. 

Now, here’s something that I can guarantee you. If you let your kids make some of their own choices, they are going to make some lousy ones. Now, if your kids are going to make bad choices, when do you want them to make them? While they are under your roof? Or after they are out on their own, they are married, and they have grandchildren—the kids who are your grandkids, and the stakes are higher and the damage is greater? 

No, no, no. You want to have them make their mistakes under your roof. And one mistake I see a lot of parents are making is they start this age protection, and then just maintain it all the way through, until the kids finally leave for college. Then they go off to college and they buy condoms by the gross and drink beer by the keg. You think, “What happened?” Well, we need to bring them up to speed. 

Now, when they make mistakes, what do you do? Let the consequences run their course. You have either correction, discipline, or if they get into trouble, let the trouble work itself through. Let them face all those consequences. That’s how they learn. 

You see, the job of a parent, an effective parent, a conscientious parent, is not to raise a “safe” child, it’s to raise a strong one. You go about it completely differently. When you are raising a strong one, you are going to help a child live a great life of adventure and set them up to change the world. It’s your call. But from our observation, and from our own experience, we’ve found that it really pays off big dividends. I think, in the long run, that’s what you choose. 

Sure, it’s intimidating, but you can do it. And you know what? It also makes it a whole lot more fun raising those kids, because you are setting kids up to really take on life. Sometimes, they actually get way ahead of the game and real pleasant through those teenage years. Trust me. It’s amazing.