For several months we have been implementing your suggested plans with our daughter, an incredibly bright thirteen-year-old who was, until now, seemingly bent on self-destruction. We have a long way to go, but because things are so much better around our home, we feel very hopeful about her future and our sanity!
Our question is not really about our daughter but about us. When we explain to friends and family what we are doing, they seem skeptical. The general idea seems to be that we don’t have any rules and our daughter is ‘getting away’ with all sorts of things. We do not know how to explain what we are doing. It does seem as if we have put aside the rules. I have always believed that rules are necessary to prevent anarchy, so I’m not quite sure why what we are doing works so well. Can you clarify this for us?
It isn’t rules which prevent anarchy in our societies, but the principles by which we live. Rules require enforcement and surveillance, and we would need battalions of law enforcement personnel to monitor everyone.
In your home, which is a microcosm of society, you have replaced rules with principles.
I know that you have changed how you deal with phone use. Instead of hard and fast rules, you have left it up to her completely, asking only that, if someone else needs to use it, they be allowed to do so without argument and that no incoming calls disturb anyone’s sleep.
Your daughter has so much to gain by respecting your wishes in this regard that she makes every effort to comply with them. She was given the choice and of course chose this option.
Why does this work? It works because principles allow everyone to benefit. Your daughter can use the phone when she wishes and you have no more need to argue or punish.
Principles allow behaviour to evolve as needs change. Rules are fixed.
Principles take into account everyone’s needs, while rules satisfy the needs of the few who make them.
Principles welcome input from all and are evenly applied, while rules are imposed and usually favour some people (adults) over others (children).
While rules provide an opportunity for children to butt heads with their parents, principles ensure that they will do their best and not simply do what they can get away with.
Principles raise the bar for good behaviour because children will do their best to keep the advantages they have been given. They will evaluate their own behaviour and make adjustments when needed.
There are many reasons why principles are superior to rules, but I will leave you with this last one: because principles allow behaviour to evolve, they are also civilizing and humanizing – and, after all, isn’t that what we want for our children?
Helen Jones (from APSGO News Fall 2007)