Everything you read about parenting today tells you how to mold your kid into a perfect little angel. There's just one problem: The world isn't perfect. In order to survive in what can be a brutal place, kids need to have smarts they can use outside the supervised environments of the classroom, your kitchen table, and church. It's your job to teach your kids the way the world works, and part of that is showing them which rules can be broken or bent. But common sense is king here; your kids need to be old enough to understand the subtleties of life before they're exposed to these five skills. Teaching a 4-year-old to start breaking a few rules will just lead to creating the next Paris Hilton.
I'm not here to turn your kids into criminals or lunatics. Knowing where and when they can start bending the rules will help them survive and find their own voice -- and you're the one who needs to teach them. Kids need to learn that life isn't just black or white, but shades of gray. Here are a few areas where you can start teaching them to break (or bend) the rules.
1) Sneak snacks into a movie theater There isn't one person reading this who hasn't sneaked Milk Duds or a box of Mike & Ike's into a movie theater. When a business is trying to take advantage of you to that degree, stuffing your pockets seems absolutely fair. Sneaking snacks into a theater is a great place to start when teaching your kids where they can bend certain rules in society. This also covers ballparks, concerts, or anywhere else that tries to fleece you for a stale, lukewarm pretzel and a $9 tub of popcorn.
2) Question teachers I am by no means asking kids to become a disruption or a nightmare to their teachers. However, the most important question they can ask their teachers is, "why?" We don't encourage that enough. Mindlessly memorizing facts and goofy math patterns to pass some stupid state-mandated test doesn't teach kids to think independently. Understanding how and why is much more important that getting it right.
I have to believe that the many great teachers out there would welcome the curiosity and enthusiasm that would follow. I don't want my kids to know just the answers; I want them to know why a certain problem works the way it does, why the book report needs to be double-spaced, and why they only have three minutes to go number two in the lavatory.
3) Learn how to tell a white lie Now, there's a big difference between having a kid who's a wolf-crying liar trusted by no one, and having a kid who knows when to lie to save someone's feelings. It could be telling Grandma that the reindeer sweater she sent for Christmas is perfect. Or it might be letting your kid inform someone he or she doesn't want to date that "I don't have time to go out with anyone right now," instead of the real reason -- that the kid looks like a cross between Carrot Top and Rosie O'Donnell.
These are the exact kind of subtleties that kids need to know in life. Showing them how to throw out a little white lie instead of destroying someone's feelings just might save an important friendship, or keep a job, or maintain family peace.
4) Pee in the woods More and more these days, kids seem to get sucked into their Xbox, iPod or cell phone without spending enough time outdoors and having fun the old-fashioned way. Take the kids up to the mountains skiing or to a cabin and let them do the things that they're meant to do: raise hell, laugh and pee in the woods. Nothing says that you're at one with nature more than relieving yourself just like the pioneers did. And while you're at it, teach the kids how to build a great campfire.
5) Bend the rules when playing sports Teaching your kids good sportsmanship as they head into the wonderful world of athletics is immensely important. However, after you get past the age when every kid plays soccer and T-ball only because their parents want them to, you get into a very competitive area. Select all-star teams for kids who haven't yet hit junior high are now the norm.
Your kids will end up awfully naïve if you let them grow up thinking that athletes aren't bending the rules. And by the time they're teens, they're ready to learn there are a ton of tricks and ways to bend the rules in sports that don't include steroids, blood doping or stealing the other team's mascot. I'm talking about head games, flicking the elbow in hoops when someone's shooting, holding the other player's jersey, and more.
Craig Playstead is a freelance writer and happily married father of three living in a suburb of Seattle. He frequently writes about fatherhood and anything else of interest to guys for MSN.