Lead Me Not Into Temptation

I offered to watch my 8-year-old’s belongings tonight at Gate B8. From across the hall, he had seen the Chicago Museum of Natural History store in O’Hare.

Parenting: It’s a jungle out there!

We could both see the realistic looking stuffed animals, including arctic foxes, ring-tailed lemurs, and three-toed sloths. (Beanie Babies are so ‘90’s and Webkins are so 2010, don’t you know?) In fact, the shelves were full of cool toys, from quartz crystals to books on Egyptology.

“You can go over there while I stay here with our stuff,” I said to Sava. “I can see you from here,” I added reassuringly.

He thought for a long moment. “Will you buy me something?” he asked, repeating the mantra of most elementary school children who have grown up in a commercialized culture.

“No,” I said reflexively. Then I offered my rationale: “You have enough stuffed animals already. Plus, Christmas is next week. Who knows what you’ll get?”

I blanched at how much I sounded like my own parents. Didn’t we all promise ourselves as teenagers that we wouldn’t become our parents? Now that I have, at least in part, I don’t know whether to be appalled or resigned.

I snapped out of my self-analysis and added my original, refreshing spin on parenting: “If you see something you really like, you could get it with your own money.”

This was a calculated statement, of course, since I know my children are far less likely to spend their own savings than mine. Funny thing.

“I better not go over there,” Sava said. “I’ll just be tempted.”

Man, I’d like to bottle that. In my clinical psychologist’s world, half the teenagers I see have gotten themselves into a jam ceding to temptation.

Choose your flavor of stress: academic, social, parental, athletic, physical, disciplinary. Some of it is caused by forces outside of adolescents’ control, but a good chunk results from giving in to short-term pleasure in the form of drugs, video games, hook-ups (online and off), and gossip.

Who knows whether Sava will be able to resist these tantalizing teen turn-ons. I’m not even sure how he does it now. But my hunch is that giving youngsters some measure of autonomy at a young age—which we do so well at camp—helps them better understand the consequences of their actions.

The word consequences has a negative connotation for many, but young people must also experience the many positive consequences of their actions. Especially important is enjoying the rewarding results of a long-term effort.

I often wonder whether Sava’s playing the violin—wherein it takes hours of practice over many days to learn a new piece—helps him delay gratification in other arenas. My guess is that cultivating forbearance does generalize, at any age.

The holy grail of parenting, of course, is providing appropriate supports and opportunities in life while somehow attaining the balance between freedom and restriction. It’s an ideal we all strive for but never quite reach. I guess that’s why it’s called youth development not youth accomplishment.

So here we are now on our flight from Chicago to Seattle, without a fox, lemur, or sloth. Chalk one up to impulse control. Maybe it’s a harbinger of mature self-regulation.

With some combination of luck and my continued effort, Sava won’t become anxious, get into academic trouble, develop an eating disorder, acquire an STD, or get kicked out of school. Resist those temptations, baby.

Now, if I could just get him off my iPad we could both get some sleep.

Dr. Christopher Thurber is the school psychologist at Phillips Exeter Academy and the co-founder of ExpertOnlineTraining.com. Learn more by visiting CampSpirit.com.

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