Allow Your Kids to Flail

 Myles Tan from

I love the word, “flail”. It combines fail and fall into one word. So, I choose this word because it is so efficient and to challenge you as parents to allow your kids to flail.

Last year my 13 old asked if he could manage screen time on his own.  We told him that we would let him give it a try if: 1. He continued doing well in school. 2. He was getting together with friends, 3. He was involved in school and extra-curricular activities and 4. He had a hard stop at night at a time we decided.

So, even though he was in front of a screen more than we liked, he managed his life pretty well.

This year: new year, new developmental stage, different story and, now, at 14, he started pushing boundaries on the night-time hard stop.  Now we are faced with a dilemma. We have given him latitude to self-manage his screen time. So far, his life still looks pretty good: good grades, friends, some activities. Sleep?  Not so much. It worked okay last year, now, it is not working so well. Potentially, his behavior is sliding into health hazard territory if it continues.

For us as parents, some of the questions we struggle with are: how lenient or how strict should we be with our kids?  When do we let go or when do we restrict? When do we jump in when a child is floundering or when do we let our children fail?  There are no hard and fast answers here. It totally depends on you, your family, the situation and your child.

However, here are some questions to consider as you are deciding when to say, “yes” or when to say “no.  When to restrict or when to be more lenient. When to jump in or when to allow your kid to “flail”.

  1. What are the major values and lessons you want your child to internalize?  Would imposing rules without discussion be the best route for your child to truly own the values you would like him or her to learn?
  2. What conversations have you been having with your child about these values all along?  If you have not been talking with your child about what you believe is important, it is a good time to start–the sooner, the better.
  3. What are the things that are not that important?  What can you let go of?
  4. Is your child safe?
  5. How are you encouraging your child to be part of the solution?
  6. And are there any circumstance in which your child may be able to change your mind about a decision you have made?  How would you want your child to present his or her argument?

You can create a family culture where your children have some skin in the game.  Where they can be part of the solution in an age-appropriate way. And where they can learn by making mistakes.  You can bet that they will come to a much deeper understanding of what you want them to know by having these experiences.

But there may be times when you will have to step in.  That will come under the, “is my child safe” heading. Most other lessons may be better learned by your guidance rather than direct intervention.

In our case, we decided to get clearer to our son that we will intervene if he can not take care of getting off his devices at the agreed upon time.  If you have given your child latitude and he/she is pushing for more and the behavior has consequences for your child’s health and wellbeing, it is totally okay to do a reset and to intervene.

The best image I can think of, is letting your kids flail with a safety net below them.

Sharon Burris-Brown M.S.W., N.B.C-H.W.C is a mental health professional-turned-health and parent coach who specializes in helping parents create strong families and resilient kids.

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