Freedom of Choice for Teens

I recently read about Tim Stafford’s advice to hurting parents, regarding a son’s irresponsibility toward himself and his behavior. He mentions “Three Rules of Life” that I find very positive: 

  • Rule 1 – You live and die by your own choices.
  • Rule 2 – You can choose smart or you can choose stupid.
  • Rule 3 – There’s always somebody or some circumstance whose job it is to make your life miserable when you choose stupid.  


Regarding rule # 1 – While we cannot control people or circumstances around us, we can control the way we respond to people or situations. Someone might do something that makes me angry, but it is my choice to actually be angry. The Bible mentions that God has set before us life and death, (Deuteronomy 30:15) and we must make a choice as to which we want. It’s called free will, a gift of God Himself, but with our choices come consequences (leading to rule number 2).


Regarding rule #2 – The debate might come on how you define that which is smart and that which is stupid. We have a list of the smart choices and our kids have a list of smart choices, but the problem comes when I see something on my stupid list showing up on my child’s smart list. So, the solution is to use a predetermined list from Someone who is all together wise and perfect! Use the Bible as the standard for life and making choices. There may be a few gray areas, but look for the principles, and be fair to the text. But, please don’t pull out verses like Exodus 21:17.


Regarding rule #3 – If you choose stupid, there always will come a day when it comes back to bite you. If you choose smart, give your kids the credit for making a wise decision! You’ll face a judge (stealing), fail a grade (not doing homework), be in an auto accident (drinking and driving), develop cancer (smoking), catch an STD (for the obvious)…


You cannot make someone change who does not want to change, which is basic counseling advice. It doesn’t work in a marriage with alcoholics or drug addicts. Secular wisdom tells us that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. There is nothing that you can do to make your kids change, but you can reward smart choices and give consequences for poor ones. So, our job as parents is to influence our kids in the right direction. Influence is the essence of leadership.


Years ago I read a book called, ToughLove, and another called Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours, The point of the first was to have rebellious teenagers experience the consequences for their actions, and the latter had a section that challenged parents to at times “pull the rug out from under their kids and watch them tumble.” 


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