Freedom, Responsibility, and Parenting

With great power comes great responsibility.
 — Uncle Ben, Spider Man’s Uncle

The same can be said of freedom. If you live in free society — you have responsibilities — both civic duties, and legal requirements. You can’t steal and expect to remain free. Responsibilities are the price of freedom.

How does this translate to parenting? You can give your child a cookie to indulge them, but what if you leave the cookie jar out forever within their reach, and they overeat and throw up? Or develop long-term health problems? Yet, it’s so easy to let a kid’s freedom grow, and get both of you into debt by them not being mature enough to wield those freedoms responsibly. Here’s how you can work with this important parenting issue.

First: it’s not the kid’s fault. Kids don’t understand the freedom/responsibility equivalency at first — they must be taught. So, every freedom you dole out as a parent, ask yourself what the matching responsibility is that must be paid. And be clear about who is on the hook to pay it. Of course, as the parent, it’s always you ultimately. You can’t leave a gun within a child’s reach and expect that if you leave them with some rules, all will be alright, and it’ll be on the kid if they don’t follow the rules. But that doesn’t mean you can’t give lessons in responsibility to kids, in small and ever-increasing amounts.

You can require that freedom be earned with responsibility. Your parental desire to indulge can generally be fulfilled without leaving the door open for future abuse of that freedom — in other words, give ‘em a cookie, then YOU put away the jar.

Responsibility doesn’t come naturally to kids. It doesn’t always come naturally to us adults! But freedom requires responsibility, sure as effect follows cause. By keeping track of the responsibilities as you give freedoms, you can keep from having to be assigned responsibility for the abuses of freedom that kids will find. Their behavior, after all, is only natural. But you can be responsible.