Children need choices. They need a structure to these choices, yes, but above all, they need to be able to make decisions about their role and activity in the world. Not having choices results in children feeling powerless and thus acting out, being defiant in order to prove (probably only to themselves) that they do have the ability to control their lives.

As adults, we may not always understand or see the reasoning behind children's choices and I have seen this lead to many adults making fun and chastising young people for their decisions. I challenge adults to hold their judgement, to find out why a child has done something before labeling it stupid, mean or deserving of punishment.

I facilitated a ceramics workshop for families last summer. During the course of one of these workshops a brother and sister, probably around the ages of 9 or 10 started arguing. I pulled them aside. The girl was upset because her brother had messed with her artwork. I asked him why. He said that it looked like it was going to fall and he was just trying to fix so that it wouldn't break. It is not only adults that assume children's decisions are wrong, but other young people who pick up on adults' attitudes and then assume as well that all young people (including themselves) make the wrong decisions. After hearing that her brother was trying to help her, the sister forgave all and seemed quite happy that he was invested in her success.

We must trust our young people. They will make the right decisions when given choices in a structure that is safe. I think sometimes this idea of choice is thought by people to mean allowing children to experience everything and learn that way. I am not advocating for allowing young people to choose to touch the stove to learn that it is hot. We have the knowledge as adults to tell children why they should not touch the stove, but we also have to acknowledge that children have the choice of whether or not to listen to us. This is why we must carefully choose what we say to children. If a child is always hearing don't do this or that and the consequences for doing this or that are not equal to the action, they are going to end up doing things that hurt them. If our goal as elders, parents, educators, and mentors is to lessen the amount of pain young people experience then this is not a great way to go about it. Either our children will try everything because they do not know which actions do have serious consequences and which are adults' attempt at control or they will live in fear, which causes harm in a completely different way.