Presenting Our Children with Choices

The one who begets a fool gets trouble;
the parent of a fool has no joy.
Proverbs 17:21NRSV

Foolish children aren’t born, they’re made… by their parents. As Americans, we are so brainwashed with certain ideas, often we aren’t even aware that we are allowing our children to raise themselves, rather than taking the constant responsibility to teach them as we should. Recently, on the Wrightslaw web page (a service for parents who have children with disabilities), an Indian child specialist commented about how American parents ask their children, rather than simply telling them (or compelling them). In other words, we give our children choices, as if somehow having options is a teaching tool. (In fact, there are teachers that teach that way in the classroom, often to the downfall of education.)

Presenting options to a person assumes that the person can

tell the difference between the wise and the foolish and will instinctively make the wise decision. However, that isn’t the way we are born. The apostle Paul even acknowledged that as a saved adult, he struggled with making the correct choices:

    For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Romans 17:18-19 NRSV

And yet, if we as parents present our children with choices, our expectation is that the children will make the wise, the righteous choice.

One of the things we need to remember is that choices become habits. If our children are given the opportunity to choose over and over again, the basis of that choice becomes a habit. So, if the child chooses based on the lusts of his flesh, then that basis becomes a habit… hard to break.

Do children know how to choose wisely? To answer that, we must ask ourselves, do children know how to choose and deny their own wants and desires? And, given the choice, will they always choose to deny themselves? (Because that is the wise choice.) When we allow children to make choices, we need to understand what we are actually allowing them to practice. What is practicing choices really going to teach them?

First, if we allow them to make wrong choices, then we need to never mitigate the consequences. And even that may not teach children to make good choices because the consequences may not have meaning for them. They may not even be able to connect the consequences with the action (or may not care). For example, if we allow children to go to school in the snow wearing shorts and flip flops, the fact that they are praised by their peers (for doing something their peers weren’t allowed to do) may be a greater consequence than the serious cold that they get being exposed to the cold.

Second, if we allow them to make wrong choices, they may become addicted to choosing based on their wants and desires rather than making good choices based on what is best. In other words, practicing making choices may not accomplish what it is we really want to accomplish and may, in fact, raise a foolish child who will do everything possible to avoid mature adult decisions in the future.

Proverbs 22:6 tells us to “train children in the right way.” The word chanak also means to narrow. If we narrow their way (only allowing them to make wise decisions), we actually train them how to live and create habit patterns that will stay with them for life. If we want to have joy in our children, we need to be willing to invest time and effort in raising them to make wise decisions. (For some of us, don’t we wish that our parents had done that?)