Raising Kids to Make Good Choices: 3 Surprisingly Simple Steps
Freedom is fought for and celebrated all over the world. The cool thing is that our personal freedom begins in our brain. The thinking brain (or prefrontal cortex for us grown-ups) is where kids learn to make good choices or bad choices. And those choices either lead to more freedom or less freedom. The good news is that, over time, kids can learn to make good choices based upon the results they want.
The thinking brain is not fully mature in kids, but it’s developing every day. For example, my kids learned that if they made good choices to follow family rules, they earned desirable freedoms or rewards. (Well, at least when I was being consistent!)
In order to follow rules, they had to exercise their thinking brain muscle to do stuff they didn’t want to do so later they could do stuff they did want to do.
My Sad No-Beach Lesson
When I was young, we spent the summers with my dad and stepmom on Long Island in New York. Every morning we were expected to make our beds before we could go out and play. One morning we were invited to go with our friends to Fire Island, an amazing beach with great waves for body surfing. It was about an hour away, so we didn't get to go very often.
But guess what? By the time they came, I hadn’t made my bed (even though I'd been reminded)! My step mother held firm to her rule, so no Fire Island for me! I had lost my freedom to do what I wanted. I was a sad (and lonely) little girl that day.
However, my thinking brain remembered this very bad consequence. I learned to discipline myself to make my bed every morning–at least in the summers!
Addiction = Losing Freedom
Losing your freedom to porn is even worse than losing a day at the beach. Viewing pornography can become an addiction.
It’s helpful to get kids to imagine how it would feel to be driven by your brain to look at pornography instead of playing with friends or having fun with family. That’s what often happens to people who develop an addiction to pornography.
When an addiction develops, the part of the brain that controls survival instincts (we call it the feeling brain) becomes convinced that it needs to see pornography in order to survive. And it sets up extremely strong cravings to push us to get what it feels we need. In fact, all addictions work this way and end up taking away the addict’s freedom.
Why? Because with an addiction the feeling brain gains control over the thinking brain. And the feeling brain is all about instant gratification—getting what it wants right now even if it can hurt you later on.
The thinking brain, on the other hand, can remember consequences and judge right from wrong. Given the chance, the thinking brain can make better decisions and good choices.
Watch this video to teach your kids the negative consequences of addiction.
3 Steps to Teach Kids that Good Choices Lead to Good Consequences
Step 1: Teach kids that there’s a link between choices and consequences. One mom asks her kids the following simple questions to teach this concept:
- What happens when you jump in a pool? (You get wet!)
- What if you don’t want to get wet? (Don’t jump in the pool!)
Sounds simple, right? But these questions remind kids that choices often have predictable consequences which kids can either pursue or avoid. Linking choices with consequences (over and over again!) helps kids develop their thinking brain muscle.
Step 2: Teach kids that they can choose their actions, but they can’t choose the consequences of those actions.
- Ask: Can you jump in the pool and stay dry? (No way!)
Step 3 Teach kids to use their thinking brain to choose which consequences (or results) they want. Again, this helps to develop a child's thinking brain. If they choose the end result they want, they can more easily see which good choices to make. (I don’t want to get wet, so I’m not going to jump in the pool OR I want to get wet, so I am going to jump into the pool!)
This is real freedom! Kids can make the decision to never participate in any thing that can become an addiction, including looking at pornography.
Two Questions to Strengthen Kids' Thinking Brain
To increase your child’s ability to make good choices, keep asking these two questions. As they answer them, they will be developing their ability to plan. What's more, they'll develop confidence that they can have a lot of control over their life and what they achieve:
- What consequence (or result) do you want?
- Then what action should you take?
Remind kids that making good choices leads to freedom. And that’s something to celebrate!