FHE with a future defense attorney

So, tonight our Family Home Evening was a review of our Family Laws, which were composed when the kids were 6 months, 2, and 4 years old, and which need review and minor adjustments pretty often. We thought that our 7-year-old, and maybe our 5-year-old were ready for the notion that actions can have both natural consequences and consequences imposed by an authority of some sort. We chose what seemed like a simple example–driving through a red light (natural consequence: accident, imposed consequence: ticket). The following discussion ensued:

Dad: “What could happen if you drove through a red light?”
Peter: “Well, I wouldn’t be driving, because you have to be 16 to get a learning permit, and I’m only 7 and 7 plus [long pause, much finger counting] 9 makes 16, so I can’t even start learning to drive for nine years and then I think it’s half a year before you can get a regular license…”
Mom: “You’re right, Peter, just *imagine* that you drove through a red light someday.”
Peter: “Well, I wouldn’t do that, unless maybe I was a firefighter or a policeman, because they’re allowed to drive through red lights…”
Dad: “Right, but just think about if a regular person drove through a red light.”
Louisa (5): “They might get in an accident!”
Mom (aka the Grammar Sheriff): “That’s right, he or she might cause an accident.”
Peter: “Yeah, but they might not.”
Dad (aka Very Bad Person who does not care about the finer points of grammar): “Right Peter, they might not get into an accident, but what else could happen?”
Peter: “Well, they might get a ticket, but only if a policeman saw them. And also, what if it was in the middle of the night and the light was broken? Then they would have to go through the light, because otherwise they might fall asleep in their car, and that’s worse than driving through a red light–well, it’s dangerous, anyway–and then I don’t think the policeman should give them a ticket, because they were *trying* to choose the right…”

I often joke that my firstborn was specially sent to help me gain a greater appreciation for Elder Packer’s approach. I’m half kidding, but I really do find myself much less a fan of free agency, dialogue, and gentle persuasion than I was when I was 20. So I wonder, how do the rest of you find what you thought to be fundamental philosophical commitments changed by close encounters with small humans? Or just by growing older? Is this progress towards wisdom, or merely the sad tale of idealism beaten out of us by cold experience?

9 comments for “FHE with a future defense attorney

  1. March 2, 2004 at 5:58 am

    ROFL! ::putting on my teacher/textbook editor hat:: I’ll use some trivium terms below. There are other names for these stages, too.

    No, you just hit the conversation too early. In child development circles we’d say your firstborn, for all his obviously growing ability to reason, is still in the grammar stage of learning/reasoning. You’re best off sticking to black and white and yes and no for a few more years yet. These guys can dabble in the abstract, but they just don’t really get it (even sevens like yours and mine that have advanced verbal reasoning skills for their age).

    Sometime around his ninth or tenth birthday, you can introduce the conversation you attempted today. He’ll be coming up on the logic stage then.

    But by the time he’s fourteen, he’ll really be ready to grasp the whole natural consequences thing much better. To be honest, at this age, the child development people would say that a seven isn’t really ready to brainstorm natural consequences yet. He or she ;) still craves (no matter how much the seven says otherwise) structure that is maintained by Mom and Dad. Structure maintained by “nature” is just too intangible for the child at this point.

    Does that mean you shouldn’t have discussions like the one above? No :) But it might help to have an understanding of where your son is coming from. I like Kohlberg’s stages of moral reasoning. He’s got a theory that makes sense and practical information for how to move kids along (if your expectations are reasonable). This site looks like it might have a well-developed explanation of it: http://www.vtaide.com/png/Kohlberg.htm

    I’ll close by saying I have a seven of my own and they are humbling people to parent ;) Still, when it comes to rebuilding my character, he can’t hold a candle to his twin two-year-old brothers . . . .

  2. March 2, 2004 at 8:39 am

    I just have second-hand expertise in this area (and not very much at that) — my mom has a Ph, D. in Instructional Psychology and she loves this child development stuff. The main thing she says about “sevens” (as Alaska calls them) is that you can really see them being “quickened” somehow, perhaps in preparation for their age of accountability. Maybe 8 years old for baptism isn’t arbitrary after all.

  3. cooper
    March 2, 2004 at 11:34 am

    Kristine, I like your reference to small humans. That is how we have approached parenting. While it is the majority thought that “controlling” a childs behavior is the easiest route. We’ve felt just the opposite. We have a responsibilty to teach our children how to make good choices. And why to make good choices. This of course will lead to the conversation you describe. It is that process you want to embrace, to help them navigate the thinking process and become, as they mature, able to make good decisions wieghing all their options. While it has not been easy, it has been rewarding. Three over 21 YW who have avoided many of the pitfalls that their peers have experienced. And while I have the floor: Time Out ROCKS!

    Now get ready for the abstract thought in the future: My oldest at 11 asked me how she could tell if she were awake and experiencing life or if she was just dreaming life. Wow.

  4. Nate Oman
    March 2, 2004 at 2:54 pm

    Kristine: I only have one child, a two year old boy, so I haven’t yet experienced these issues yet. Part of our problem is that liberalism (philosophical) teaches us to value respect for the rational faculties and choices of others as a primary moral value. The problem is that this leaves us with a really impoverished idea of child rearing and value inculcation. It seems to me that part of your disappointment comes from the fact that our essentially liberal culture causes us to place a great deal of emphasis on the notion of agency, which I am not sure is always the most helpful concept for thinking about child rearing. On the other hand, I don’t think that we should treat our children like Pavlovian dogs either, so I don’t have any real insight to offer on the topic. I do, however, think that one needn’t feel guilt or cynicism when attempts at rational, abstract discussions with seven year olds break down.

  5. March 2, 2004 at 4:15 pm

    Raising children has made me question rational choice theory. At first I questioned because I doubted that my two-year old was in any way rational in his decision-making. But then I realized that he was being perfectly rational (from a two year old perspective) but it was I, the adult, who was making completely irrational decisions.

  6. Matt J
    March 2, 2004 at 4:49 pm

    Your conversation about traffic laws reminds of one I had just last Saturday with my 5-year-old daughter. She saw a car pulled over by a policeman and was wondering what was happening. This led to explanations of speeding and other traffic violations and tickets and having to pay the police some money. At that point Anna paused a bit and said, “That’s sort of like stealing.”

    Anna, at 5, is our oldest, and we’re doing our best to find the balance between teaching by 1) that’s the way it is, 2) thinking through the consequences, and 3) listening to our conscience. I think different problems may require one or more of these methods. I want to emphasize (or at least include) #3 because that’s something I heard very little of while growing up. One thing I’m amazed at is how quickly Anna knows when she’s done something wrong. She’ll run away and try to hide and start to cry at the slightest sign of a reprimand. That’s either God telling her something or she’s utterly afraid of us or maybe it is her way of wrapping us around her little finger…

  7. March 2, 2004 at 5:11 pm

    It is amazing letting your children learn for themselves that something they have done is wrong. On a couple of occasions I have sent my 8 year old to her room after she did something, which she should have known was wrong, with the instruction just to think about what she did and/or read through the scriptures until she felt like she knew what she did wrong. Invariably, she becomes aware of exactly what she did and why it was wrong, which we can then discuss at greater length.

  8. Greg Call
    March 2, 2004 at 6:34 pm

    This week, I learned that Hobbes’s “war of all against all” was really about my 2-year-old son’s playdates, which are too often nasty, brutish, and short. Forget those scorned women; hell hath no fury like my boy after another tot has confiscated his Thomas the Tank Engine. I guess what I have learned is that evolutionary psychology must have some things right.

  9. Nate Oman
    March 2, 2004 at 7:10 pm

    Greg: You should see the epic battles that occur between my son, Jacob, and his puppy over control of Jacob’s Thomas the Tank Engine.

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