Monday, October 3, 2011

Letting kids make mistakes

My sons have a lot of difficulty with impulse control.  It's hard sometimes to know how much freedom I ought to give them -- freedom to make their own decisions and their own mistakes.  This past week in particular has felt like a bit of "controlled devastation".

They borrowed my Dixie Chicks CD (with my very hesitant permission), and it disappeared into their bedrooms.  In one evening clean-up extravaganza, I unearthed the CD, much worse for the wear: it no longer played.  Natural consequences say that they have to pay to replace it.  That's not so bad; I'm pretty sure they'll think twice about borrowing the next CD when I remind them how much money the last one cost them.

The bigger dilemma I had this week was over birthday money.  My older son turned 13, and he received $60 (in cash!) from his friends.  I had the obligatory "we give to charity" talk, and he agreed to set aside $5 for our church.  But I let him pocket the rest . . . was that a good idea?

On the one hand, I could force him to do the "right" thing and put most of it into his depleted savings account.  (Maybe he shouldn't have borrowed the CD; maybe he shouldn't have tried to fix his bike with my rubber mallet, either).  After all, he was just going to school and home again: what could he spend his money on?

On the other hand, how is he going to learn to make money decisions if I keep making them for him? So after the obligatory "we share" talk, I let him decide how much to put aside in savings.  He handed me $10 to put in his account, and he pocketed the rest.

The pocketed $45 didn't stay pocketed long; he bought candy and snacks and power-ade and goodness-knows-what-else at school.  Five days after he got his birthday money, we went to the drum store to buy new sticks, and he begged me to buy the glitter ones ($16.95) or the electric light-up ones ($20.75).  His pockets were empty.

We had a long, sobering discussion out in the parking lot.  You can guess how it went:  "You can spend your money on stupid things like power-ade at school if you want, but it IS stupid.  And if you want to do stupid things, you aren't allowed to complain that you don't have money to buy nice things like glowing drum sticks."  He wasn't very happy.

Later that night, he said, "Mom, if I get money for my birthday next year, could you put it all in my bank account?"  I don't actually believe he'll remember this next year.  It's a hard, hard lesson to learn, both for kids AND for adults.

And it's hard to know whether I'm teaching it the right way.

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