As children begin another year of school, I find parents seeking counsel for their unique problems. One eventually faced by all parents is children insisting on making their own choices. As children mature they naturally want to express their independence. They also test the limits to see how far they can push their parents. In time, every parent faces the inevitable, “It’s my life! I should be able to live it the way I want!”
We, as a people, respect the rights of others. We encourage those around us to stand up for their rights and want our children to do the same. So, how do we handle it when our own children insist we back off and allow them to make a choice we know to be wrong, dangerous, or unwise? I will argue that the child doesn’t have a right to make the decision, unless the parent gives them that privilege. This is because the right to decide belongs to the one responsible for the decision.
When children want to make a choice, they are usually thinking, “I want to do this because I will enjoy it. I should be free to choose.” Suppose a young teen wants to make a choice. This young person believes he or she should have the right to make the decision. Is this belief correct? If you say the answer is simply “Yes” then you are likely a teen yourself. The young person in this situation seldom considers the consequences. Every choice we make has consequences. Most of these consequences are unintended. Many are not easy to foresee. Suppose a young person decides to exercise his or her ‘right’ and gets injured. Who pays the medical bills? Will the teen be solely responsible? Will the hospital and doctors sue the teen to recover their money, or would they have a legal case against the parents? We all know the answer: the parents will legally be on the hook for expenses incurred through the decision. Suppose the decision injures another person. Will that person’s family sue the teen for compensation and expenses? Of course not! They, as in the previous scenario, will sue the teen’s parents. The teen may have made the choice, but the parents pay just as if they had made the decision themselves.
So, if the parents must pay for the unintended consequences of the choice, do they not have a say in the choice? Since they will pay all of the expenses, and the teen will be responsible for none, does that not mean the parents have the right to make the decision? They may choose to allow the teen to ‘decide’ but this simply means they are not exercising their right. My household has always operated on a simple rule, “He (or she) who pays the bills makes the rules. To make your own rules you must be prepared to pay your own bills.”
Note: a version of this was published in the October 2015 edition of the San Antonio Beacon Newspaper.