While still studying to become a psychologist, I joined an organisation which trained lay counsellors. During one of our sessions, a trainee counsellor revealed that he was a recovering alcoholic, a drug addict, and had spent time in prison. I immediately came to the conclusion that he must come from a grossly dysfunctional family…that he must have been abused or neglected or that his parents must have been drug addicts.
Imagine my surprise when he told me that he was a much wanted and much loved only child from a good, stable, and loving family, but that from early childhood he seemed to gravitate towards the ‘wrong’ friends and was always enticed and tempted to do the wrong things. When he got into trouble – which happened frequently – his parents would do whatever it took to get him out of it.
However, after being found guilty of car theft, even his parents’ money and the best lawyers couldn’t keep him from going to prison. It was there, at the age of thirty-four, that he – for the first time, learnt about consequences. “My parents really loved me but they never taught me about consequences; it is one of the most important things parents need to do.”
It is an unfortunate truth that human beings learn quicker from painful experiences than from pleasant ones. Mark Twain once said, “A cat that sat on a hot stove once, will never sit on a hot stove again.”
As parents we want to protect our children from pain and suffering but we may not always be able to solve every problem that they may have. We therefore should not shield them from consequences and problems that they have created for themselves. If we do, our children will never learn that all their actions have consequences, and that they, themselves, will have to live with them.
The human brain is only fully developed at the age of twenty five, and the part that deals with common sense, logic, the weighing up of pros and cons and delayed gratification is the last part of the brain to develop. Therefore, thinking about consequences is not natural for adolescents.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where even one foolish, impulsive action by one’s child can result in lifelong consequences for him/her, as well as for others. It is therefore vitally important that we teach our children to always think carefully about the consequences of their actions.
Instead of always rushing in to fix their problems, we, as parents need to be prepared to sometimes step aside and allow them to feel the pain of their unwise decision making.
Lynda Pretorious, Danville Counsellor