QUESTION: My sister's daughter went off to college at eighteen and immediately went a little crazy. She had always been a good kid, but when she was on her own, she drank like a lush, was sexually promiscuous, and flunked three of her classes. My daughter is only twelve, but I don't want her to make the same mistakes when she is beyond our grasp. How can I get her ready to handle freedom and independence?
DR. DOBSON: Well, you may already be twelve years late in beginning to prepare your daughter for that moment of release. The key is to transfer freedom and responsibility to her little by little from early childhood so she won't need your supervision when she is beyond it. To move suddenly from tight control to utter liberty is an invitation to disaster.
I learned this principle from my own mother, who made a calculated effort to teach me independence and responsibility. After laying a foundation during the younger years, she gave me a "final examination" when I was seventeen years old. Mom and Dad went on a two-week trip and left me at home with the family car and permission to have my buddies stay at the house. Wow! Fourteen slumber parties in a row! I couldn't believe it. We could have torn the place apart -- but we didn't. We behaved rather responsibly.
I always wondered why my mother took such a risk, and after I was grown, I asked her about it. She just smiled and said, "I knew in one year you would be leaving for college, where you would have complete freedom with no one watching over you. I wanted to expose you to that independence while you were still under my influence."
I suggest that you let your daughter test the waters of freedom occasionally as she's growing up, rather than tossing her into the big wide ocean all at once. It takes wisdom and tact to pull that off, but it can be done. If you do the job properly, the time of release in six or seven years will be a gentle transition rather than a cataclysmic event.
QUESTION: My two kids are as different as night and day. You'd never even know they were born to the same parents. One of them is having trouble in school, and the other is something of a superstar. I'm very worried about the one boy. Do some kids start out doing poorly and then catch fire?
DR. DOBSON: Thank goodness they often do. Let me give you an encouraging illustration. Several years ago I attended a wedding ceremony in a beautiful garden setting, and I came away with some thoughts about parents who are raising a child like yours.
After the minister had instructed the groom to kiss the bride on that day, approximately 150 colorful, helium-filled balloons were released into the blue California sky. Within a few seconds the balloons were just scattered all across the heavens, some of them rising hundreds of feet overhead and others cruising toward the horizon. A few balloons struggled to clear the upper branches of the trees while the show-offs became mere pinpoints of color on their journey to the sky.
How interesting, I thought, and how symbolic of children. Let's face it. Some boys and girls seem to be born with more helium than others. They catch all the right breezes, and they soar effortlessly to the heights, while others wobble dangerously close to the trees. Their frantic folks run along underneath, huffing and puffing to keep them airborne. It is an exhausting experience.