Guidance Now, Independence Later

I'd like to share with you a fragment of forgotten lore I found buried under the hills. Here it is.

Kids are like puppies.

This is true of preschoolers and high-schoolers, and every flavor of child in between. Kids are all like puppies one way or another, some small and cuddly, others large and kind of dumb. What I want to talk about is not that they are puppies and not that we should treat them like puppies, but given that they sure are a lot like puppies, what does that mean for us as parents? In short, it means that sometimes we have to take them by the scruff of their necks.

Example: You've just dropped $1,000 and brought home a puppy from the breeder. It's just about the most darling thing you ever saw. The next day, you begin to train it. You set it out in the front yard, sans leash, and say, "Good boy, now make wise choices. Don't go in the street." 30 seconds later, full of youthful puppiness, it chases the FedEx truck and goes to heaven.

Now that was a bad dog owner. ("Bad dog owner!") What it needed was a leash, a fenced backyard, patience and love, and enforced instructions. Any old dog owner knows that. To get a well-trained dog that makes good choices on its own, you begin by making it do the right thing yourself. Scruff of the neck, and so forth.

Kids are like puppies. We are preparing them for independence, but they are not independent yet. We begin by requiring obedience all the time. We make them do their homework, whether it is fun or not fun. We require them to be respectful and have good personal habits. Then, as time goes on and they approach college, we gradually reduce the decisions we make for them and let them make more of their own. While young, they've been required to buckle down and do hard things, and so now, they're rewarded with well-earned freedoms.

Unfortunately, we sometimes get this backwards. We give children choices when they are far too young with far too little will power, and then when they are older and can do stupid things with cars and girls, we begin barking orders and cracking whips. Then, we wonder why they just squeeze by in college and never call home and visit on the holidays. We are very perplexed.