The Day I Broke Mr. Winter’s Rule

The Day I Broke Mr. Winter’s Rule

I was talking to a friend recently. She’s an experienced probation officer in a juvenile court working with delinquent teens on probation.

“Why don’t these kids listen to me when I tell them that if they fail to follow the probation rules there will be unpleasant consequences?” she asked.

“I take many these kids back to court for violation of probation hearings,” she said. “Sometimes their probation is extended and sometimes they get locked up in the detention center. Even though, I carefully go over the probation rules with them, the funny thing is that many of these teenagers tell me they didn’t believe it could happen to them.”

As I tried to answer my friend’s question, I remembered something that happened to me in the fourth grade. Mr. Winters was my fourth grade teacher and one of his rules was that you walked quietly down the wooden steps that led from the playground into our lower-level classroom.

I was well aware of this rule because I saw some of my classmates get punished for breaking this rule. I figured the rule applied to other children, but not to me. After all, I was a good student. I got good grades.  I helped Mr. Winters by taking messages down to the office and doing other chores for him.

So, one day I stomped down the wooden steps making a great racket. Mr. Winters was waiting for me at the bottom of the steps.

“You’ll be staying in class for the rest of the week doing extra homework instead of going out for recess,” Mr. Winters announced to me.

“But that’s not fair,” I protested. “I was just playing around.”

“You broke my rule,” he said simply, but firmly. I knew there was no point in arguing further.

I found out that day that Mr. Winters’ rules applied to everyone – even me. I also learned he didn’t play favorites. It didn’t matter that I helped him clean the blackboards earlier that day or that he liked me. If you broke one of Mr. Winters’ rules, there would be consequences.

I never forgot the lesson I learned that day. And I never had to test out one of Mr. Winters’ rules ever again.

Maybe that’s the problem for many adolescents that my friend works with in the juvenile court. Perhaps these kids never had a Mr. Winters in their life. Nor did they have parents who set rules with consistent consequences. I have no doubt that for many of the teens who wind up on probation live in homes in which the rules and the consequences shift from day to day, depending on their parents’ whims or moods.

I’ve come across many parents over the course of my career who do not want their kids to be mad at them. Or they can’t tolerate the temporary anger – sometimes even the momentary hatred – that results when children are given a consequence when they break a rule or violate an established limit. Some of these parents who end up being permissive just want to be popular with their kids and often feel guilty when they hold their children accountable.

Fortunately, Mr. Winters wasn’t trying to win a popularity contest. He didn’t care that day whether I was emotionally hurt or that I might not like him for the rest of that day. He had the wisdom to know that teaching a lesson about rules and consequences was far more important than worrying about whether a student liked him.

Which is why my friend, the probation officer, has to be the person in a lot of teenager’s lives who finally says, “You broke the rules, now you have to pay the consequences.” If no one else is going to enforce rules and limits, she must.

It’s too bad more children don’t have a Mr. Winters in their life when they are young. If they had a Mr. Winters, then they would learn valuable lessons long before they became adolescents and before they were forced to learn one of life’s important lessons the hard way.

Effective Supervision a Key to Successful Parenting

Effective Supervision a Key to Successful Parenting

A key to raising children successfully is to exercise appropriate amounts of monitoring and supervising of their behavior and activities. Do too little supervision and you risk being an indulgent and overly lax parent; do too much supervision and you become an excessively strict and repressive parent. Neither extreme leads to good results with children.

But striking the right balance in monitoring and supervision can help you achieve that  balance – and, of course, you will do a good job of keeping track of where your child is and what she is doing. That, research has shown, is important in being a successful parent.

But how can you monitor your child effectively?

You may have learned in a writing or journalism class somewhere along the line that a lead paragraph, particularly in news writing, needs to answer five basic questions: Who? What? When? Where? and Why? These questions can serve you well in supervising your child. However, I would add one more question: How?

● Who? You should ask a simple question, such as “Who are you going to be with?” Find out who your child will be hanging around with and learn something about her friends. While you are at it, find out something about her friend’s parents or other adults who will be providing supervision.

● What? You should ask: “What are you going to be doing?” Find out what she and her friends are planning and learn the details of what she says she will be doing. Should she be doing this? Has it been carefully thought through or carefully planned? If not, you may have to get involved and help her plan more carefully.

● When? You should ask: “When are you leaving and when are you coming back?” You’re not being nosy, this is just another important questions competent parents ask. Your child has a responsibility to let you know when she’s leaving and when she will return home. You deserve to know this as a parent.

● Where? You should ask: “Where exactly are you going?” Can she tell you where she’s going to be? Does she have a phone number or an address to give you in case you need to reach her while she is out? If she can’t provide you with specific details about where she will be and how you can reach her, you may have second thoughts about allowing her to go.

● Why? You should ask: “Why are you doing this activity?” Does it have a worthwhile purpose? Is it safe? Is it likely to put her in a too-risky situation? You have to use your intuition and judgment to make a decision about whether her stated purpose is reasonable and something you can allow.

● How? You should ask: “How are you going to get there and get back?” Is she going to be with a responsible driver? Is the person doing the driving someone you know and can agree is a safe driver? Is it someone who has been known to drink and drive? Is there a safe way for her to get home on time? Again, if you don’t like your child’s answers to these questions, then you may have to set some limits.

Adequately supervising a child, particularly a teenager means you must clarify your expectations. Let her know exactly what you expect (that she will be where she says she is going, for instance) and what the rules and limits are.

These questions I’m suggesting do not mean that children don’t have choices or that you are controlling all of their activities. It does mean that you demand that your child act in a responsible way, that she knows what the rules and expectations are, and that you fully expect her to agree to live up to these rules and expectations.

Why is all of this important?

It’s simple. When you monitor and closely supervise your child, there’s less chance that she will be involved in risky, unwise, or unsafe behavior. And in the long run, she learns to be a responsible individual who thinks carefully about her choices.