All of us tell our kids that “actions have consequences.” What we don’t tell them, maybe because we haven’t thought this through ourselves, is that there are initial or first order consequences and there are second order consequences. There may even be third order consequences. First order consequences are often very different, surprisingly different, from the consequences that follow. They may even be the opposite.
Here’s a couple of examples:
I eat ice-cream often.
First order consequence: I’m happy, I feel satisfied. I love ice cream, and one bowl is usually not enough.
Second order consequence: Not very good. I gain weight. My cholesterol numbers climb. If I’m lactose intolerant, the momentary pleasure is soon replaced with some very unpleasant symptoms.
I exercise regularly.
First order consequence: It’s inconvenient, until I get used to the routine at least. I experience fatigue and soreness.
Second order consequence: Good health and greater stamina. The self-discipline it takes to develop the routine carries over into other areas of my life.
Unfortunately, our minds default to focusing on first-order consequences most of the time. We’re short sighted, and this perspective is fueled by our busy and hurried lifestyle. Only by slowing down will we have time to think through and distinguish between first order and second order consequences and how different they often are.
A few areas you can explore with your children.
Student loan debt.
Credit card debt.
Putting off homework.
Take time to help your children distinguish between first order and second order consequences. Encourage them to think through these on a regular basis. That will likely lead to smarter short-term decisions.