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Laura on Life

The Line Between Right and Wrong
By Laura Snyder
Feb 29, 2012 - 4:54:23 AM

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All of my children know the difference between right and wrong. We have been diligence in that regard. A parent can make some mistakes, but at the end of the day, if your children do not know the difference between right and wrong, you've failed.

However, a kid's perception of that thin line between right and wrong is sometimes blurry and might even zigzag from time to time.

For example, it's okay to use dead branches to make a fort. It's also okay to use Dad's tools to make said fort, as long as you ask permission.

However, everything goes haywire when a kid starts assuming certain things.

"Do the branches have to be dead? Or in our yard?"

"I'm pretty sure the chainsaw is off-limits, but Dad let me use his hand saw once. So... do I need permission if I've already used it once with permission?"

"I've already been told not to dig in the grass, so I probably shouldn't build my fort on the grass."

The thing is, a kid can reason out certain concepts and their reasoning can be quite logical at times... until he tries to explain his actions to an irate adult.

Other concepts do not fit nicely into a child's reason. These are the ones that must be constantly reinforced by those adults.

Similarly, when a batter wants to learn to hit a baseball in one direction, he needs to whack that ball many times to fine-tune the direction.

Certainly, whacking a kid many times will only give him brain damage. Brain damage defeats our goal here, so I do not recommend whacking. But if you want to move him in the right direction, you need to instill your words of wisdom many, many times. This kind of reinforcement will make the blurry, zigzagging line between right and wrong much clearer. If this doesn't work, an occasional grounding and video game deprivation may help delineate those lines as well.

Parents failing to convey the message enough times, results in a ten-year old who takes a hacksaw from the garage without permission and cuts down live branches in the neighbor's front yard and uses them to build a fort in the middle of our driveway.

"Why!?" my husband exploded. "Why would you do such a thing? What were you thinking?"

Seriously, that line of questioning will just put us both in the loony bin. It is sufficient to say that we never told him he couldn't do that.

This leaves us with another dilemma: How can a child be told what not to do, before they've actually committed the infraction?

There is not a parent on the planet that can somehow imagine all the trouble their children could get into. If we could, the line between right and wrong would be solid and clear as day.

You see, they don't mean to be naughty. It's just that our children spend most of their time right there on the edge, trying to solidify those lines. It stands to reason that sometimes, they're going to cross them.

Laura Snyder is a nationally syndicated columnist, author & speaker. You can reach Laura at Or visit her website for more info.

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