It is common knowledge that children are not mature enough to make important life decisions. That is why they cannot sign contracts or do anything of significance without their parents’ permission or signature. Before the age of eighteen,they cannot vote, marry, get a credit card, seek medical attention, make major purchases, buy alcohol or cigarettes, sign a contract, travel, or even get a magazine subscription. All of these things, regardless of how large or small, require parental consent or permission. However, children can and do make decisions and take actions every day that will ultimately determine their future. Regardless of the rules we set, it is our children who ultimately decide whether they will follow or ignore them. Every day, children decide whether or not to do drugs.They decide whether or not to work hard in school, or even whether to go to school at all. They make decisions on whether or not to have sex (protected or unprotected), sell drugs, or commit other criminal acts. They pick the people they will befriend, date, or otherwise allow into their lives. All of these actions can have negative consequences that affect the child’s future. They are the ones, nevertheless, who will make those decisions. The same child who would have to wait until the age of eighteen to get a magazine subscription can decide to have unprotected sex and become a parent at the age of thirteen. Children need to be taught, at an early age, that there are consequences to actions.Where and what we are at this very moment is the direct result of our past decisions and actions. The same will be true of our children in their future.What they do today is going to determine their fate. This presents a problem because children are young, immature, and have not had enough life experiences to understand that fact.
As adults with more life experiences, we have a responsibility to convey to our children the consequences of certain actions and behaviors. What we don’t want is to have the child look to the experience itself as a way of determining whether or not to engage in that activity. There are, after all, negative behaviors that feel good. It’s not like sticking a needle in your eye. If it were, no one would do it. Sex feels good to the young teenager, so does the high from drugs or alcohol. Hanging out with buddies all day, clowning around, and having a good time are certainly more fun than going to school or reading all of those chapters in preparation for that final exam. Selling drugs and having a pocketful of money, nice cars, jewelry, clothes, and girls is much better than being broke, on the bus, and dateless. It’s a no-brainer. The choices they are making, indeed, net them seemingly positive results, at least in the short term.
It is these short-term positive results that our children think of when they opt for such behaviors. Our children are out there on the frontlines choosing money, friendship, fun, excitement, and the euphoric feelings of drugs and sex. But in the long run, they are actually getting imprisonment, illiteracy, early parenthood, homelessness, poverty and death. These outcomes are being marketed in deceptively tempting packages. We must put the correct labels on the packages so that our children know what they are really getting and can make wiser decisions.
We need to help our children make a strong association between a behavior and the consequences the behavior brings. If a child associates negative consequences with certain behaviors, it’s the negative consequences the child will think of when considering these behaviors, not the short-term positive results. With this orientation, children considering doing drugs won’t perceive it as a good thing; they will associate doing drugs with being a homeless drug addict, selling themselves and their children, walking the streets begging and robbing for the next high. The thought of dropping out of school will automatically conjure up thoughts of joblessness, homelessness, poverty and despair. These negative thoughts can be a strong deterrent to engaging in negative behaviors.When a child understands the relationship between actions and consequences and anticipates the negative consequences of a particular behavior, he will ultimately make better choices. Proactive Parenting: A Guide to Raising Exceptional Children teaches parents how to establish, in the mind of a child, an association between actions and consequences. It teaches the best age to establish this association and even gives actual dialogue and conversation. It also explains why punishment alone is not a long term deterrent to inappropriate behavior.