As the song goes, “Freedom Isn’t Free”

Kids lament, “ I can’t wait to grow up so I can do anything I want.”

Adults know better. We know that to have freedom of independence, we have to follow the rules or live with the consequences. We have the freedom to drive wherever we want, but we have to go the speed limit and wear our seat belt or chance getting fined. We have to pay taxes or possibly go to jail. We have to pay for insurance or risk being in huge debt. We have to earn money to buy what we need and want…and sometimes we have to pay the ultimate price by serving in our armed forces or chance losing our country’s freedoms. 

“Freedom Isn’t Free” is a song performed by the Up With People Group, and it’s about what we have to do to ensure our freedom; about the responsibilities we have to take on in order to gain and protect our freedom.

Kids don’t have a clue. They don’t yet know that freedom isn’t free, and it’s our job—we parents and teachers —to help them learn this lesson. We do that by continually providing experiences that teach them the lesson that with every freedom comes a responsibility, and when we don’t fulfill that responsibility, there are consequences.

I remember having a talk with a sophomore boy in my first period English class. He was late for school most days, and I asked him what was causing his lateness. He replied that he hated to get up, and it didn’t matter anyway because his mom would drive him to school if he missed the bus.

I then asked him what his plans were for learning the material he missed by being late. He replied that it didn’t matter because he’d always been late a lot, and his teachers let him do extra credit to catch up.

I had an idea that his parents main discipline style was to nag and then give up, so I asked him if he got tired of his parents nagging him. Apparently, I hit a nerve because he burst out with a litany of complaints about how his parents treated him like a “little kid.” Mimicking them, he went on in a sing-song tone, “’Did you feed the dog? Did you pick up the garage? Stop playing those games and do your homework.’ I can’t ever do what I want. “

I waited a few breaths to see if he wanted to vent some more, and then I responded, “I’m wondering if there’s anything you can do to help your parents begin to see you as more grown up.” He responded that he “guessed” he could “try” and get up on time. It didn’t sound promising, but it was a beginning.

I invited Josh and his mom to meet with me, and together we created the “lesson plan” for what Josh would do to get up without any reminders from Mom and Dad. Then came the hard part. What would happen if Josh didn’t take his responsibility for getting himself up and on the bus? What consequences would be in place? His mom tentatively suggested he could walk.  And I then told him that the school expected him to be on time, and if he weren’t, there would be no extra credit to make up for what he had missed.

Josh walked to school—5 miles— two times, and that was the end of his lateness for the rest of the year. By-the-way, his mom drove invisibly behind to make sure he was safe (and he had his cell). Later that year, Josh told me his parents were giving him “more space.” I guess they were seeing him as beginning to grow up.

When we fail to teach our children and students the basic fact of life that freedom is earned through fulfilling our responsibilities, we’re enabling them to remain children well into adulthood. As the song goes, “Freedom Isn’t Free. We have to sacrifice; we have to pay the price for our liberty.” And this is the way we learn to grow up.

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