Dear Christian Counselor,
I was a pretty wild kid back in the ’80’s, but now I’m a pretty conservative parent. I’m wondering if I should tell my own kids about some of the things I did in hopes that they will learn from my mistakes?
Secrets of a Misspent Youth
There are different schools of thought on this perennial question. If you ask adolescents, they will generally say they want their parents to be open about their past mistakes and that they would actually take those lessons to heart. Personally, I don’t advise it. One of the developmental characteristics of adolescence is the inability to appropriately weigh consequences. Even when a teen knows that a certain desirable action (such as bungee jumping) has undesirable consequences (a grisly death), he or she lacks the mature judgment necessary to weigh the potential cost (blood and pain) against the momentary emotional reward (exhilarating free fall). Therefore, your well-meant revelation about your own bungee-jumping past seems more likely to give your teen new ideas and permission to try them than to relieve them of the burden of testing the boundaries you already blasted. A recent study bears this out in particular reference to drug use.
It might be gracefully appropriate to tell your son or daughter about your own mistakes AFTER they’ve made the same ones. But I wouldn’t do that either, if you have younger children. They WILL find out. Your teenager needs a wise and even a somewhat mysterious limit-setter more than he or she needs another messed-up friend.