When It’s Okay to Break Rules
We, as parents, are responsible for teaching our children how to live within society’s rules. We preach about not hurting others, keeping elbows off tables, and myriad other major and minor rules of society. But there times when we should teach our children to BREAK society’s rules as well. In this article, we will address under what circumstances we should teach our children that it’s okay to break rules.
It’s generally accepted that lying violates the rule of honesty in our society. However, white lies, which are fibs told to spare someone’s feelings, can be a demonstration of compassion. If your kindergartener daughter is asked by her classmate if she likes the artwork drawn by the classmate, it may be best for your daughter to say “yes” rather than “no”, even when “no” is the more truthful answer. As your daughter ages, you can teach her how to find ways to speak truthfully but kindly. Younger children struggle with this task, but it can be learned with maturation. For example, if your daughter is in sixth grade in the above scenario, your daughter may reply, “I really like your color choices.” That may be a truthful statement even when she is not fond of the artwork as a whole.
Sometimes, rules should be broken to maintain a person’s healthy boundaries. For example, children often have big or small secrets and share them with their closest friends. When sharing secrets, one child typically begins with, “I know a secret. If I tell you, do you swear you won’t tell anybody?” The other child typically swears not to divulge whatever secret is forthcoming. But what if the secret is one that should not be kept quiet? What if the secret is, “Daddy touches me . . . down there” or “I’m going to kill myself this evening. I already have it all planned out.” Another example is when it’s ok to break the rule to obey our elders: it’s ok to break that rule when the elder involved is violating a rule him-/herself (i.e., when Uncle John tries to touch a child inappropriately and commands the child to submit to his demands and not to say anything to anyone about it). We need to teach our children what rules need to be broken to maintain healthy boundaries.
Rules are general . . . they are meant to cover a wide range of circumstances. However, like all generalities, they do not take into consideration all the complex variables that come from real-world application. Additionally, some rules are wholly ill conceived. Sometimes, breaking a rule is the moral thing to do as opposed to blindly following a rule despite the injury that doing so may cause. For example, back in the 1950′s and early 1960′s, when racial segregation was the rule in the South, the moral imperative was to break that rule and associate with people without regard for their race or ethnicity. After all, we know today that people of different races can and do have much in common. To have a social circle based on common interests and values, rather than a common race, is the new rule, in part because courageous people decades ago had the courage to break the prior rule.
SOCIAL GRACE IN THE FACE OF PEER PRESSURE
Sometimes ,our children’s peers may engage in behaviors that we do not support. These “friends” may try to convince our children to join them in their activities. Many children have difficulty saying “no” to their peers as they do not want to be perceived to be outside the group or perhaps even a “goody two shoes”. Social redirection among teen peer groups can be particularly painful. In such circumstances, many parents give their children permission to tell a lie and blame them (the parents) for the children not being able to participate in the questionable activities. So, rather than the children saying, “I won’t drink alcohol with you because my family and I disapprove of minors consuming alcohol”, the children may say instead, “Mom and Dad want me home from school right away today. I have chores to do. I’m sorry that I don’t have time to hang out with you after school.”
In sum, while we as parents need to teach our children how to live within society’s rules, we must also, in limited circumstances, teach our children how to break society’s rules as well.
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