Welcome to the age of “free-range parenting.” Parenting has been reduced to creating a safe and big corral for kids to roam, explore and decide for themselves. We’ve all been in line at McDonald’s only to have the person in front of you ask their four year old what they want to eat… and then they wait ten minutes for them to decide. Inside we are thinking… “Just order for them! We all know it will be nuggets and fries.” Most Gen-Xers were raised with “helicopter parenting.” They hated how their parents hovered overhead and made up their minds for them, so they react by letting their kids decide for themselves. This causes a few problems: our kids think the world revolves around them and they can’t handle it when they don’t get their way. And many kids are handed decisions that they are not yet equipped to make. So in light of that, here are five decisions we SHOULD make for our kids.
1) What they believe about God
I often hear from parents that when it comes to faith, they plan to let their kids decide for themselves. But if a parent did that with nutrition, hygiene and academics we’d consider them a bad parent. The problem is that the body, mind, and health will fade away and be buried in the dirt, but the soul will last forever. So what do you call a parent who neglects their child’s soul? Progressive. Kids need to know that there is a God, he made them, he loves them, and he has a purpose for them. Otherwise, life will be cheap and hope will be expendable. As kids get older, they will make their faith their own. But give them a faith to build on… then they can decide on their own how to live it out.
2) How much tech time they get
Every child has access to technology now. From televisions to tablets to smartphones and computers, our kids spend much of their waking hours in front of a screen. We already know this hurts sleep patterns – due to the blue light projected it could reduce the natural delivery of melatonin which helps us fall asleep. But there’s another danger, especially for kids. Social media has allowed our kids to have instant praise or criticism 24/7. A steady stream of input telling your kids they are “less than” has monumental effects. But studies also show that when we have a post “liked” by someone, dopamine releases in the brain. This is the same chemical we get from alcohol, drugs and other addictive behavior. There’s a reason we have a drinking age limit – because kids can’t handle it. And the possibility of our kids getting addicted, to not just approval but this release of dopamine, can have life-long effects. Could Instagram be a gateway drug? Perhaps. At the very least, as parents, we can decide how much tech time they get. As long as we are paying their bills and letting them live at home, then we maintain the right to monitor their phones and technology.
3) How many extra-curricular activities they are in
There are so many options for kids outside of school: sporting events, classes, clubs. And many of them are beneficial. They help with social skills, self-esteem, and even college admissions. But too many take a toll. Don’t let your kids decide how many they get to do. You decide. Each kid is different – some can handle more than others, and some just can’t. Some won’t want to do anything, so you’ll have to force them. But it’s our responsibility as parents to find that happy medium.
4) If family time is a priority
When your kids are young, family time is not an option. But when they get older, and have friends, and don’t need you for transportation, suddenly they want to be anywhere but home. Though this is typical, it doesn’t have to be inevitable. And it doesn’t have to be their choice. Pick a night of the week that is yours. We will all do something together on ________. If your schedule doesn’t allow it one week, pick another day. The best thing you can do is decide that family dinner is a priority. Studies show that self-esteem rises, grades go up, suicide rates and drug usage go down with the addition of one thing: family dinner. It doesn’t even have to be good food. It just needs to be together time. For some families, it can be late by the time everyone gets home, and you can’t all wait for dinner, then wait for dessert. Take 30 minutes to sit around the table and talk. Go over highs and lows of the day. Talk about the upcoming weekend. Whatever. At least it’s scheduled the time to be together. Oh, and leave the phones in another room!
5) What they think of themselves
I know this one is tough, and sooner or later they will begin to develop their own opinion about themselves, but you get to be the first ones to let them know how valuable they are to you and to God. Culture will tell them they are a slave to their impulses. Society will tell them they aren’t good enough. But you be the one to let them know how safe home is and how loved they are. They are worth your time and attention. And they are so worthwhile that God allowed his Son to die for them on a cross.
With each new stage of maturity, our kids get more privileges and more responsibility. They will start making more and more decisions. And one day they’ll make all of these decisions, but all in due time. For now, let’s help them grow into the kids God created them to be.