The simple world of a toddler always gives way to a more complex world of early childhood. Early childhood then gives way to the even more complex world of the preadolescent and then the teen. The more complex the child’s world, the more often parents will be asked to make decisions that carry some level of risk. For example, a preadolescent seeks permission to go somewhere, do something, or be with someone with whom Mom and Dad are unfamiliar or do not favor as an influence.
Eventually, all children make requests that test the boundaries of “letting go,” not to mention the boundaries of Mom and Dad’s wisdom. Even though parents take into consideration the child’s age, character strengths and weaknesses, and positive or negative propensities, how will they know that their decision is the right decision? How can they know if they have rightly weighed all the potential risks associated with a “Yes” answer against all the potential benefits of a “Yes” answer? How will they know if a “No” is too limiting or unrealistic, not to mention disappointing for their child to hear?
Take a look at the following three scenarios. If you were faced with similar challenges, what would you do and why?
One: Your son or daughter comes home from school with a bulletin announcing that next week the school will have a Gay/Lesbian Awareness Week with special speakers from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance. Will you allow your child to participate, or will you keep him/her home during those days?
Two: “Dad, a bunch of the guys are driving up to the big game, and they asked me to drive. I know I only have my permit, but Jimmy’s brother is 19 years old, and he will be going with us so he can be the adult in the car. Can I drive the car to the game?”
Three: “Mom, Martha’s brother is having a party for the junior-high basketball team, and she asked if I could help her serve and clean up after the party. Then I would spend the night at her house. She knows that I have to check with you guys, but I really want to go.”
Using the examples above, let’s plug your child’s name into the story line. Here is how parents can gain a greater sense of confidence that their “Yes” or “No” or “Maybe” answer is the right answer.
When faced with a similar challenge as presented in Scenario One, or requests similar to Scenarios Two and Three, you can find confidence in your answer by first applying the following four questions to the request:
- If you say, “Yes,” to your child’s request, what is the best thing that can happen?
- If you say, “Yes,” to your child’s request, what is the worst thing that can happen?
- If you say, “No,” to your child’s request, what is the best thing that can happen?
- If you say, “No,” to your child’s request, what is the worst thing that can happen?
As an assessment tool, the four questions can be applied to a host of decisions involving parenting, finances, business, health, and ministry decisions. Although we do not know the origin of this particular analytical tool, we believe in its value in the context of parenting. By working through these four questions, parents will gain a greater sense of confidence that their decision is the best decision because each question forces the consideration of facts and variables that are often overlooked.
However, it does not stop with just a parental assessment of risk. As children grow through the middle years, parents need to bring them into the conversation and work through the same questions, so that as parents, they are leading by the strength of their relational influence and not by the power of their authority.
By considering together the potential consequences associated with “Yes” and “No,” and comparing them with the potential good associated with “Yes” and “No,” the preteen and teen will learn how to assign a value to the benefits and risks of their own decisions. They, too, will learn how to evaluate their own requests, not based on the emotional content of the moment, but by the risk vs. benefit potential associated with their decisions.
Parents cannot know with absolute certainty that their “Yes” or “No” is the most prudent answer or serves the child’s best interest. However, by inserting the variables that apply to each of the four questions, parents can at least minimize the potential risk of a negative outcome and maximize the possibility that they are making the right decision and ultimately keeping their teen safe.
This excerpt was taken from Protecting the Innocence of Childhood by Gary & Anne Marie Ezzo. If you’d like more information on protecting your child’s innocence or are interested in taking a class on this topic, please visit GrowingFamilies.Life.