Since I was a child, my parents have reminded me that freedom has a price. To secure our freedom, many men and women have lost their lives–a possibility for any serviceman when they enlist. But do your teens understand the concept? Have you taught them when granted freedom, they are responsible for following the rules and behaving appropriately. With the freedom to choose, comes the responsibility for your choices and your actions.
One of the first things we learn growing up is that all of our actions have consequences. If we pull a glass of water off the table, it will spill all over us. If we touch a hot burner on the stove, it will burn. If we pick up a knife on the blade, it will cut us.
Unfortunately, many teenagers don’t carry that knowledge into adulthood as they begin to make choices that are life changing and life altering. They become consumed with their newfound freedom. They don’t rationalize that sleeping with someone they just met in a bar can have consequences: sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS, pregnancy, rape and even at the very worst murder. They don’t think that cheating on a test in school, even if they don’t get caught, robs them of an education and learning. They don’t comprehend that having 20 credit cards that are maxed out will put them so deep into debt that for some the only solution is suicide. And they don’t think that marrying the wrong guy could put them at the bottom of San Francisco bay like it did Laci Peterson.
Functioning in the present
When you’re young and your whole life is ahead of you, you tend to function in the present. Twenty or thirty years from now seems like an eternity to someone in their teens and twenties. But time has a way of catching up with us and every choice we make when we are young has both good and bad consequences. The trick is to know when those consequences aren’t worth the risk. And the other trick is to pause long enough before taking those risks to weigh both the good and the bad.
A free choice with negative consequences
During my son’s senior year of high school, he wanted to join the military. As his parents, and with an underage teenager, we met with the recruiters prior to him signing up. They assured us that he could attend college while serving in the Corps, that he could be assigned to his choice of duty stations, and that he could pick his specialty because of his high test scores on the entrance exam. However, we were skeptical about the promises they were making. But once he turned 18, he would be free to make the choice, so we gave our permission.
Upon arrival at boot camp after high school graduation, he quickly discovered that all the promises were just ploys to get him to sign on the dotted line. Needless to say, he learned a very difficult lesson: every decision has consequences. He served his time in the military, traveled, and made some great friends. But his dream to be a lifetime soldier was affected by his distaste for the unfair treatment he received in the Marine Corps. His decision altered his future goals and sent him on a very different path than he had originally planned.
If you get anything from this bit of advice, let it be this: teach your teenagers to take time to think before they act. Weigh the good and the bad consequences. Then once they decide, make the best of their decision and swallow the good with the bad. Every path they will take in their life has the potential for greatness. Help them see before they head off to college that freedom brings responsibility –responsibility for their actions and the consequences of those actions.
Read Wendy’s post: Passing the Responsibility Torch
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