Dear Mr. Dad: My older children – ages 11 and 12 – are constantly complaining that things aren’t “fair” when it comes to the rules in our house. They say it’s not right that that their younger sibling (age 7) gets to enjoy many of the same benefits as they do, even though they’re a lot older. For instance, bed time in our home is set for 9 p.m. on weeknights, which I feel is appropriate for the older and younger kids; but they don’t agree.
A: “It’s not fair” is probably the most played card in the family deck. Part of the reason is that kids often see the word “fair” as a synonym for “the same,” when, as most adults well know, there’s a big difference between the two.
In most cases, the kids are wrong about whether something is actually unfair or not. But in this case, I think they’re making a good point.
Bed times should be based upon age and the amount of sleep that your children need to function properly the next day. Most 10 and 11-year-olds don’t need as much sleep as a 7-year-old, and scooting their bedtime as little as 30 minutes later could go a long way toward re-establishing their rightful place at the top of the food chain. It would also give you some wonderful extra time with your older kids.
Overall, family rules should be based on each child’s age, needs, and level of maturity. Granting privileges to children who demonstrate that they’re mature enough to handle them will encourage them to take responsibility for themselves and will give them a sense of accomplishment and pride. Applying a single set of rules to everyone, regardless of age, pretty much guarantees that someone’s needs won’t be met.
At some point, all of us fall back on “because I said so.” But I encourage you to take a few minutes now and then to explain your rules and, more important, to listen to what your children have to say about them.
Ultimately, of course, the call is yours to make. But showing the kids that you care about their feelings and that you’re willing to consider alternatives will help them feel like respected and mature members of the household. And that, in turn, will go a long way toward keeping the lines of communication open as they move into the surly, noncommunicative teenage years.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.