Adolescence is a time when kids can be off-track. Moods swing in all directions, experimentation and rebellion against authority are commonplace, and kids are often misdirected, misguided, and believe they have all of the answers.
And parents are often ineffectual in their efforts to reign in bad behavior and address off-track attitudes with their adolescent children. They can lower the bar, expecting less from their children as long as their grades are okay, they’re performing well in sports, or everything seems okay on the surface. Somewhere, somehow parents stop paying attention to the kind of people their children are becoming and more attention to what their children can do.
So how do we help kids navigate their way through this time…guide them, support them, offer them enough structure and discipline without robbing their right as “adulthood testers” opportunities for growth and learning? How do we raise the bar high enough so that they can emerge on the other side with the tools they need to succeed in life as good, decent people? Laura and Malcolm Gauld say we help kids by helping the parents, the kids’ primary influencers.
As a parenting expert and head of Hyde Schools, a group of public and private schools that focus on college preparation and family-based character education, my approach starts with letting kids know immediately they are responsible for themselves. At Hyde, kids find out fast that who they are is more important than what they do. Parents find out that the best they can do for their children at this time is to let go of their (children’s) potential and take hold of their own.
- Understand your job as parents. This is the foundation of parenting. Like any job, one must understand the duties and responsibilities that go along with this biggest job of all. Most of the unproductive actions we take stem from the strong desire for playing the roles we want to play in our children’s lives, rather than accepting the role we need to play. Some specific action steps parents can take include: Examples: a. We can be friendly, but we are not friends; b. Love your children, yet resist seeking their love; c. The more you talk, the more you lose; d. Do not engage with a terrorist attitude; e. You are the primary teacher.
- Raise your children to be accountable to life. We have only a short time to instill the values and principles that will assist our children in putting their lives together. If we tie them to us, we may not be able to fully teach the lessons that life requires. Examples: a. Do not do for your children what they can do for themselves; b. Value success & failure; c. Teach your child to work; d. Look for the positive but don’t “gush;” e. Allow your children the same struggles that shaped you; f. Look for humor and laughter g. Parent from principles; not from fear, guilt, or control.
- Build family traditions. The big picture of raising children is done with the actions, routines, and practices that make up lifetime memories, habits, and character. It is never too late to start a family tradition and often the value of these actions is seen looking back at one’s upbringing. Examples: a. Reach out and give back as a family b. Value and expect manners; c. Hold family meetings; d. Light candles at the dinner table; e. Make attitude everything.
- Have faith in your child’s unique potential and the larger forces at work. Every child has a unique contribution to make in the world. We must believe in that potential even if we cannot understand it and we must allow the larger forces (people, faith, etc.) to play their role in our child’s journey. Examples: a. Allow obstacles to become opportunities; b. Give others permission to challenge your child; c. Resist labels of any kind; d. Who you are is more important that what you do; e. Hold onto both the reality and vision you have for your child.
- Your own personal growth will be your true legacy to your child. We will be parents until we breathe our last breath. As Jung states in his powerful quote, “The greatest impact on children are the unlived lives of adults.” Our growth will trump any successes and talents we think will inspire them. Examples: a. Lead by example; b. Respect yourself; c. Take risks in front of your child; d. Get up every day and model character in the little moments; e. Do something each day for pure joy; f. Tackle the deep attitudes that hold you back; g. Accept what your own parents gave you, what they tried to give you and what they were unable to give you.