This metaphor elaborates on similar themes to those described previously in the posting Teaching a child to ride a bike. Imagine a high wire act. Now imagine the acrobat first walks across with a net below. He wants to make it across, but he knows the net is there, so if he falls, he’ll be ok. Now imagine the net is taken away. He walks across again and starts to lose his balance. For some people, the stress and pressure might actually make them more nervous, and more likely to fall. However, imagine the man is driven to find his balance again because he knows that his neck is on the line. The knowledge that it is up to him alone, that his survival now depends solely on his ability to balance himself may provide him with the added incentive to make it across. He could not create that sense of life and death importance the first time he crossed with the net even if wanted to so. Necessity, or survival, is the mother of invention.

By the same token, imagine parents that will bail their teen out of trouble every time, or provide structure to make him do his homework, or stay on top of him to do well in school. They are the teen’s net. The teen knows that if he doesn’t push himself, his parents will make him pick up the slack. He doesn’t need to care about school as long as his parents will do the caring for him. If his parents pull back (as difficult as that may be), then the teen will risk the true consequences of not owning his responsibilities. The net has been taken away.

As I said previously, the teen needs to test that by falling, which is really testing his parents to see if the net is truly gone. If he discovers that he truly is walking without a net, then he learns what it is like to get it done on his own. This is not about a lack of consequences. If he doesn’t push himself, he ends up facing the natural consequences of his own choices (poor grades, not passing, etc.), and then he is more likely to take on a real sense of responsibility and accountability for his choices. The choices become about doing for himself and knowing the natural consequences, not doing for the parents. The schoolwork is truly his now, to do with as he sees fit, and to weather the consequences.

As in the previous posting, it is important to mention that this method is not appropriate for every situation. Some ‘falls’ are too risky to allow. Some people might be more prone to fall with more pressure or independence, due to their temperament, their maturity, or what is at stake. The teenager’s age, and the ramifications of a few falls should be taken into account. Some teens won’t pick up the responsibility with academics because the real consequences are too far down the road (college, job etc.). For such a teen, his parents may feel that they must maintain some involvement in his academics, or risk the teen learning the real consequences. Yet, even that experience can provide the teen with some valuable natural consequence learning that he cannot get from being told by his parents.

The point is that the teen is unlikely to learn a sense of self-direction and accountability if you are always getting him to do what he needs to do. Unfortunately, for a lot of teens this means learning the hard way. As part of growing up, he must be given the responsibility for these choices at some point. It is up to his parents to balance his need to be protected with his need to experience the lesson.


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