But what I really want them to develop is a healthy skepticism and a willingness to question authority and the status quo.

By Ruth Soukup
Photo by Getty Images

It started out as a joke.

My husband and I were discussing some story in the news—I can’t even remember the details anymore—but it was another story about someone who had broken all the rules and not only gotten away with it, but actually come out ahead. They had won because they broke the rules.

“Oh, honey,” I said, “don’t you know that rules are for suckers?”

We both laughed and then moved on to the next topic of conversation. But a short time later, it came up again. Another news story. Another person breaking the rules and coming out ahead. Another example of how thinking outside the box is the key to success. 

Over and over again, I found myself saying it, “Rules are for suckers.

Eventually, I started to embrace it.

In fact, it is even a principle I teach my kids, which a lot of people tell me is completely nuts. “What are you going to do when that backfires and they stop listening to you?” they ask.

And truthfully, I’m just waiting for the day the principal calls because one of my kids (and I’m pretty sure it will be my youngest) decided to share this little philosophy of life at the wrong time.

So allow me to clarify. 

What I am really teaching my kids is that not that all rules are stupid. I tell them that there are lots of really good rules out there. Important rules we should follow. But there are also a lot of dumb rules out there, rules that make no sense, rules that other people made up just to make themselves feel important, or because they’ve always been done that way, or because they made sense at the time, but don’t anymore.

But what I really want them to develop is a healthy skepticism and a willingness to question authority and the status quo. I never want them to just follow blindly because someone told them it was a rule. I want them to know it is okay to follow their own path. 

And as both a business owner and a mom, I would even dare to assert that teaching our kids that rules are for suckers is one of the most valuable lessons we can ever give them, and here’s why:

First, it teaches them to embrace common sense.

I’m pretty sure that the rise of the internet and social media has had a direct correlation with the loss of common sense. But just because someone says something is true, or because it shows up on the internet, or because “everyone” is repeating it as fact, doesn’t actually make it true.

Our kids need to understand that.

And that’s true whether they’re hearing things online or in the hallways at school.

So teach your kids that the next time they hear something that “everyone” is talking about—or freaking out over—to ask themselves, “Does this actually make sense?” Is this the crisis or emergency that everyone else is making it out to be? Could there be a different perspective?”

That one simple exercise might just change everything. But that’s only the beginning!

Because teaching your kids that rules are for suckers also teaches them how to question authority.

And while that might sound counterintuitive, it’s important for our kids to understand that while most authority is legitimate—necessary—not all authority is good. The truth is that very few of us ever stop to think about the difference. For the most part, we accept without question the rules that are handed down by the authority figures in our life. We might not always like them, but we don’t question them.

But what about when authority is wrong? What about when the rule goes against our better judgment, or worse yet, our conscience? Do we dare question then?  More importantly, do our kids?

There was a famous experiment that was conducted at Yale University in the 1960s to test the willingness of participants to obey an authority figure who was telling them to do something that conflicted with their personal conscience.

The results were pretty shocking. 65% of the participants continued to obey the authority figure, even when they believed they were harming another human, and were clearly uncomfortable doing so.

Authority isn’t all bad, but it should never be taken at face value, and ultimately it is our duty to make sure our kids are at least willing to actively question it, even when it feels uncomfortable.

And finally, it dares them to be different.

Be honest—how often do you dare your children to think outside the box? Just because something has always been done a certain way doesn’t mean it always needs to be done that way. If you think about it, almost every great invention or technological advancement in our society has happened because someone dared to be different, or to do something in a completely new way.

But it’s hard to be different. No one wants to be seen as strange or weird, or open ourselves up to criticism or ridicule. And yet, why not? Because, when you think about it, what do we really have to lose? Why not push the envelope and see how far we can go? Why not try something new? What’s the very worst that can happen, really?

And what would happen if we could help our kids to understand that, as early as possible, and to understand, beyond a shadow of a doubt that not only is it okay to do your own thing, but that most of the time, it is much, much better?

Because rules are for suckers. 


About the author

Photo courtesy of Ruth Soukup

Ruth Soukup is dedicated to helping people break through fear and create a life they love. Through her top-rated Do It Scared podcast and her blog, she provides easy-to-follow guidance for following your dreams and reaching your goals. Her latest book, Do It Scared: Finding the Courage to Face Your Fears, Overcome Adversity, and Create a Life You Love releases May 21, 2019.