Children or teenagers who have not yet experienced progressively more challenging responsibilities, and thus have learned and developed confidence and self-governance, will require greater outside governance. Those who have been given progressively more challenging responsibilities, and who are able to set and tackle goals and objectives that are in alignment with their true highest values (what is most important to them), automatically become more self-governed, confident and resilient.

They are more balanced in their orientation and can face daily pleasures and pains, supports and challenges more equally. They are able to face and solve problems instead of avoiding them.

This is the view of behaviourist, educator and author, Dr John Demartini. Here he answers some questions about his own childhood, and why he thinks it is important to let children take on challenges and accountabilities so as to empower themselves.

Q: You were dropped off on the freeway when you were 14 years of age. Is this something you would condone or recommend today?

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A: It all depends on the maturity of the young adult. If they are precocious and capable and have been prepared for some of life’s many challenges, then they might be given a gradual weaning and encouraged to become independent. The perception of ages has changed; adulthood came sooner in the early part of the last century. Put it into context: age 14 then, is about 19 or 20 now. I don’t condemn nor condone freedom at that age – it has to depend on the maturity of the individual teen.

Q: What do you think drives society’s obsession with complete safety and a pain-free life experience? What are we afraid of?

A: Whatever wounds or fears you have not learned to love in your own life, you will probably try and overprotect your teens from. Hedonism and utilitarianism started the movement that we are supposed to be happy, safe, secure and good all the time and that it is our inalienable right. But maximum psychological development occurs at the border of challenge and support.

The fantasy of a Utopian world can set up unrealistic expectations and undermine human development. It is wiser to prepare our teens for the balanced realities of life and teach them how to embrace both sides of life – support and challenge, ease and difficulties, pleasures and pains, cooperation and conflict. Both are essential. Many people over-protect their children because they are afraid of peer pressure, judgment, or afraid that their children will experience something they as parents have not learned to appreciate and love.

Q: Is it possible to reduce harm, pain and discomfort from our lives completely?

A: No. Teens who try to avoid all forms of discomfort simply create internal discomforts or attract external challenges to balance this. If they attempt to escape challenges, they breed new ones that follow them like a shadow. If you attempted to remove all challenges, discomforts and pains from your life, you would miss out on all that those challenges, discomforts and pains they have brought and taught you. Pain and pleasure are Kipling’s two imposters.

Q: Is there a need for harm, pain and discomfort as part of the human experience? If so, why?

A: Teens require challenges to facilitate the birth of innovation, creation, solutions and opportunity. Too much support and ease creates juvenile dependence; too much challenge creates precocious independence. Pain is part of life – we wouldn’t have pain-sensitive nerve endings at the end of our fingers if it wasn’t necessary to be able to feel pain. There is a book called Brilliant Function of Pain, by Milton Ward. It is about people who cannot experience pain and what new challenges they face. Pain is your feedback – if you avoid it or try to medicate it away, you won’t get your feedback. You need pain, discomfort and things that challenge you to grow and to learn by.

Q: What are people afraid of?

A: People are afraid of: not being educated or knowledgeable enough; not being successful or achieving enough; not being wealthy enough, or not making or having enough money, or losing money; not being loved, or having intimacy enough; not being accepted, or being rejected; not being vital, healthy or attractive enough; not being morally or spiritually accepted or right. They are also afraid of losing that which supports their highest values, and/or gaining that which challenges their highest values. Their fantasies give birth to their fears, nightmares and phobias. Fear is a feedback to make sure you set true, balanced and strategic goals that are truly meaningful.