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Kids eating a meal

​​​From a very early age, we learn that life is not fair. Children have a keen understanding of this concept. When someone breaks a rule, or makes a decision or behaves in a way that puts children at a disadvantage, they instantly respond "That isn't fair!"

As parents, we need to teach our children that fairness is about actions and consequences that are moral, honorable and equitable. A parent's role in teaching and modeling fairness is twofold:  First, we must both respond to our child's need to be treated fairly, and second, we must also teach our child to be fair and to play fair.

Modeling fairness is extremely important common sense parenting. As parents, we have an amazing amount of control over our children's lives. We determine allowance amounts, bed times, punishments and praise. We have a responsibility to be fair and consistent and not to abuse our power.

There are  two types of fairness:

  • Fair results, or  substantive fairness
  • Fair procedures , or   procedural fairness

Substantive fairness: This means giving people what they deserve. However, deciding what people deserve is subjective. There is often no agreed-upon standard for establishing what a person is due. Thus, it is not always possible to come to an undisputable, fair conclusion. 

This is especially true for teenagers. Teenagers tend to think that a fair decision results in them getting what they want. Likewise, an unfair decision results in them not getting what they want. Your teen will not always agree that an outcome is fair, but if you reach a decision thoughtfully and according to your conscience, that is the best any parent can do.

Procedural Fairness: Procedural fairness relates to how one reaches a decision. Fair decisions are made in an appropriate manner based on appropriate criteria. Four essential elements of reaching a fair decision are  fair noticeimpartialityfact-gathering and  fair hearing.

  1. Fair notice: Parents clearly outline rules, expectations and consequences for breaking the rules.
  2. Impartiality: Parents assess the situation objectively.
  3. Fact-gathering: Parents gather all the information they can by talking to their child and verifying the facts if necessary.
  4. Fair hearing: Parents give their child the opportunity to tell his or her side of the story, and then thoroughly investigate the matter to ensure that all of the important information has been gathered. Being heard - explaining and defending oneself - is very important, especially to a teen. It is also necessary when determining consequences for breaking the rules. 

A fair procedure should result in a fair decision. Consequences and punishments must match the offense. General parenting advice is to avoid overzealous punishments. Fair, reasonable punishments will result in better behaviors than wildly overreactive ones.  

Fairness is a two-way street. You, as a parent, need to make it clear to your child, especially teenagers, that you expect fairness from him or her as much as they want fairness from you. And it is extremely important that you model fairness to your child by being as open, honest and objective in your decision-making as possible.