How Parents Make the Rules

By Oscar Wolfe and Allison Kaplan

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Photo by Becca Sabot

Since my post with the survey about freedoms for kids, I have gotten numerous requests for a post full of parent responses. I asked the parents of the kids surveyed about why they haven’t allowed their child to have whatever freedom the kids said they wanted in the previous article. I think that while the parents all have good points, we kids do too. I know that our parents are just trying to protect us and do the right thing, but every once in a while, they have to let us try something for ourselves. Here’s what the parents had to say, starting with my mom.

Mom’s note: 

Oscar has a friend who competes in adrenaline-pumping sports like mountain bike racing and alpine skiing, but his mom didn’t want him going sledding with us one recent weekend, because she thought the hill at a nearby park was too dangerous. When it comes to parenting, we all have our own personal comfort zone, our threshold for risk, our rules. I have a friend who lets her kids stay home alone, but doesn’t allow them to eat without an adult present, because she worries about choking. Of all the things that make me nervous about leaving my kids home alone (and there are many), I’d never thought about choking until she mentioned it! Now I’m thinking maybe I should worry about that, too. New rule?
Back when I was channeling the Fresh Prince, belting out “Parents Just Don’t Understand” in my yellow Chevy Citation, I couldn’t have imagined being on the other side of the struggle. Parenting is challenging, scary, demanding, and hard. There is no manual. And while it might seem to kids like we’re simply making up rules to flex our power or ruin their lives, there is almost always a rationale, a strong conviction, best intentions, and life experience behind our decisions. Some, easier to explain than others.
We were hanging out in the kitchen one day recently when Oscar blurted out, “I wish I could just eat whatever I want without asking.” I was caught off guard. It’s true, my kids, ages 12 and 8, are not allowed to grab treats without permission, and I’m proud to say—so far as I can measure the cookie jar—they really don’t disobey. But my husband and I never made a conscious decision to strictly police the kitchen—we didn’t write that rule, in stone, or ink—it just sort of happened that way. We went with our gut, and some practical concerns.  Once Oscar brought it up, we talked about how often he would choose carrots over cookies, and how it’s our job as parents to help him make healthy decisions and learn limits. But he is getting older. He can reach the cabinets to grab the crackers. He can pour his own drink. And there’s value in learning to do things for himself, too. So kitchen rules are up for review. (And I might have tucked the M&M’s up on a higher shelf.)

Other parents of kids surveyed by Oscar weigh in: 

On walking home alone
“Even though Daniel’s school is close to our house – walking home involves crossing a major street and walking on the busy street with no sidewalks. In winter, these streets are not well plowed and are very slippery. Many days, he’s not done with school until after 5, so that means he would have to walk home in the dark, which I am not so comfortable with at this point.” — Marina

On making money decisions
“Generally speaking, kids have a hard time understanding and appreciating the full value of money. While they certainly understand the numeric value of money, what they may not appreciate is the effort and work that goes into earning money. Likewise, they generally don’t appreciate the ‘fleeting’ high that comes with purchasing items that are wants vs. needs. Regardless of your age, earnings and circumstances, it’s a good habit to get into the spend, save, and give pattern when it comes to managing money. This is a hard concept for kids as it is much more fun to spend, but hopefully with a bit of parental guidance, in the long run they’ll appreciate and respect the full value of money and learn that saving and giving can be just as rewarding as spending. For our kids, it’s not that they don’t get too spend any money – they actually do spend, but it’s important that we set limits to try and instill the above mentioned values. It may sound cliché, but money really can’t buy happiness. It makes life easier, for sure, but ‘stuff’ doesn’t represent who you are. Hopefully, over time, this message will stick with our kids!” — Amy and Charles

On Instagram Privileges
“The main reason I don’t allow my daughter to have an Instagram account is that the rules state that 13 is the minimum age for a person to set up an account. In order for her to sign up, she would have to lie about her age. I think it’s wrong to allow my kids to lie and pretend to be a year older. How can I say that it’s ok to lie about this but not other things? I also think it’s very difficult, even as an adult, to see posts on social media and realize that you were not invited to an event or outing. I think there is plenty of time to have more of a social media presence. (PS I have allowed her to have an account to post pictures of our dog!)”

On taking the city bus alone
“I love that Jonah is growing up as a ‘city-kid,’ and while I do think it is really important for him to explore, Chicago is a big city where scary things happen sometimes. I feel like 12 years old is too young for him to be taking public transportation by himself, but I’m happy to support his growing independence. Last week, he stayed after school and walked to Starbucks with friends. I know that the more he explores the city without adults, the more confident he will become. I just think that right now it is safer for him to do that exploring with friends rather than by himself. He just needs to be patient—his sister, who is 14, takes the CTA (bus and train) all over the city by herself. Jonah will be doing that too soon enough.”

Parents: what rules are your kids challenging? Kids: how are your parents being too strict? We’d love to hear from you!

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