The Case for Letting Kids Make Their Own Choices

Mar 19, 2018

Credit L. Lerner

There’s been a steady decline in mental health among teens and young adults in recent decades. Since 1960, anxiety, depression, and addiction have increased, as as has the number of young people who say they aren’t the ones in control of their lives. That lack (or perceived lack) of control may be at the heart of the problem.

In The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives, Ned Johnson and William Stixrud draw on the work of numerous neuroscientists, psychologists, and social scientists, as well as their own experiences as the founder of a tutoring service and a clinical psychologist. The upshot: parents who are afraid to let their children flounder or fail may be causing more stress than they are alleviating, and the results can be lifelong.


“We’re so worried about the outcome, that we have a tendency to want to exert more control,” Johnson said. “The challenge is that it’s a bit of a zero-sum game, and so if I try to exert more control over my kids, they naturally feel less control themselves.”


Johnson and Stixrud not only explain the underlying biology of the brain, and how stress changes it, they also provide examples, scripts, and “what to do tonight” lists for parents interested in helping their children take control of their own lives.