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Monday, March 5, 2018

Bubble Wrap Kids

Personal rant warning...

What is it with eating laundry detergent? How did this become cool? Don't these kids realize the harm they're doing to themselves when they eat those things? Maybe not.

It's a natural instinct to protect our babies, to keep them safe from anything that might harm them. I think we've gone too far, though. It's also natural for our babies to grow up and start finding out for themselves what will harm them and what is safe. The problem is that we're not letting them experiment while the stakes are low and the dangers are small. We wrap our kids in bubble wrap to the point that they never experience the thrill of danger. They expect everything in their world to be safe. They expect words to never hurt. They expect to never fail.

And then we wonder why teens and young adults are eating laundry detergent.

Kids need to be able to experience danger. They need to explore, to leave the nest and stretch their wings. We, as their parents and the adults in their lives, should provide guidance, but we should also let them experience the consequences of their actions and choices. I'm not talking about "toddlers playing in traffic" danger, that would be stupid, short-sighted, and definitely wrong. I'm talking about letting kids climb trees and venture out of our narrow little safe zones. I'm talking about letting them explore. I'm talking about letting them fail on an assignment because they forgot to do it or being tardy to school because they didn't make it to the bus stop on time. I'm talking about letting them suffer when the consequences are small and their mistakes are small. How are they going to learn to handle the large things if we never let them experiment with the small things?

My 17yo son has a hard time waking up in the morning. I was stressing out because he was perpetually late. I had to call him multiple times every morning. And then one day I realized he's old enough to deal with the consequences. He has an alarm clock. He doesn't need me to wake him up. So I didn't. I warned him the night before. And then I didn't wake him up. I didn't call him down for breakfast. I sat and read a book and let the minutes slip by. His sister finally woke him up because she was worried about being late to her school. I assured her that if she was ready on time, I'd take her to school. She wouldn't be punished because her brother couldn't get himself out of bed on time. He was a half hour late to school that morning. And it wasn't my problem. It was his. I let him own it and suffer the consequences. He had to call his teacher and explain why he was late. Was it easy for me? No, but I decided to let go. It's good for both of us. I should have done it years earlier.

So maybe it's time to remove some of that bubble wrap. Kids don't magically become responsible adults on their 18th birthday. They have to be taught. They have to experience decision making. They have to deal with consequences. So let them wear mismatched clothes. Let them leave their jacket home on a rainy day. Let them get an F. Let them suffer a little.

Let them learn that not everyone is going to speak kindly. And that's okay. They aren't going to die from a few harsh words. Teach them compassion instead. Maybe that rude clerk was having a rough week. Maybe that teacher was right and they did a sloppy job and could have done better. Maybe their friend isn't really their friend.

Let them fail when they make bad decisions. Do it when the consequences are small. Let them spend their three dollars on a cheap toy that breaks before you get home. And don't replace it no matter how upset they are. Let them learn from the experience. Don't wrap them in bubble wrap.

Trust your instincts as your child's parent. You know them best. You know when they need support and when you need to pull back. Tears won't hurt them. They will help them grow. That doesn't mean turn your back and let them suffer alone. Offer sympathy and encouragement. Help them learn to acknowledge their mistakes and then give them the support they need to move on and do better.

And then maybe we won't need safe spots at colleges. Maybe our kids will learn to create their own safe spots inside themselves. Or maybe they'll develop the resilience and maturity to move beyond those moments.

And maybe they'll quit eating laundry soap.