Teenagers may think that the middle and high school years don’t matter much, and that having fun is paramount. Or they might think that making good grades, making the team, or being popular is what matters most. Those are common viewpoints held by teens and by the culture at large.
Everybody has their value system, but here is a different way of looking at the teen years. We’ve all heard that the teens are building character, one mistake and life lesson at a time. Let me put it a different way: Teens are building a reputation right now, and that reputation will follow them, unfair as that may be.
If I could speak to every 7th grader in the world, I would say something like this:
“Kids, listen up. Who you are right now in school does matter, and here’s why. Who are you are now is how others will remember you 20, 30, even 60 years from now. It’s a snapshot etched in their memory. It may not be fair, but it’s a fact. People will remember what kind of person you were, and it’s that lens that they will see you through, until you are able to replace that lens, which takes a lot of time.Continue reading “Character Matters Sooner Than Later”
A friend recently posted on Facebook a picture of her three young children helping their dad build a deck. The seven year-old boy was using a power drill to sink a deck screw.
Another woman posts a picture of her two kids 6 feet high up in the branches of an old oak tree. One is climbing with a garden hose in her hand, while another is hanging upside down.
You’ve all seen pics on social media that make you think, “Isn’t that dangerous for a little kid? Is he old enough for that? Is that safe?”
Those are excellent questions for every parent to ask about every activity. We should always be concerned about the safety of our children, but the real question is in how you respond to those questions.
Do you always choose the safest option?
In my opinion, always erring on the side of safety is a mistake. It seems like the safest way to raise kids, but it’s not. Failing to give young kids experiences with dangerous things will only increase their chances of being hurt later in life.
Ever since I was ten, I wanted to grow up and have a happy family. Since I was sixteen, I wanted a career in which I could help teenagers to grow up well. As a teacher, coach, and parent, it has been my privilege to do so – often ineffectively, of course. One of the things I have learned along the way is that there are very few good books out there about parenting early adolescents (10-14 year olds).
Young teenagers often “cross the line.” It’s inevitable, so it should not surprise us. Yet, we should not just acquiesce to the lowest common denominator: “Boys will be boys.”
It’s our job as adults to help young boys and girls to live well and to move towards becoming young men and women. Adolescence should be a growth process, not a static state of being, or worse yet, a window of time in which to act like a dumb animal. Saying to kids, “No, you won’t do that,” is vital to a civil society.
Young men and women need adults to speak up, but it’s scary sometimes to be the bad guy. For example, it can be intimidating for even a grown man to tell a teenage boy to pull his pants up, for goodness sake (click here for that story).
Sometimes a bad example is as motivating as a good one. I had just such an experience last Saturday:
Guitar Center is now my son’s “candy store.” There are so many flavors to sample: Stratocaster, Telecaster, Les Paul, and Gretsch to name a very few. Saturdays are the worst day to shop there because there are so many customers trying out electric guitars that it’s sheer dissonance. It’s a cacophony of mostly teenage boys trying to impress nobody in particular with their imitations of classic rock guitar heroes.
One particular 14 year old boy surprised me with his guitar skills, but it was his behavior that was truly shocking. In the thirty minutes that we were there, this boy must have picked up and played twenty guitars through a dozen different amplifiers, using every effect imaginable. He played at near-ear-splitting volume so that other customers could not hear themselves. Eventually, he sat down right next to my son and started wailing away and jammering on about the awesomeness of Marshall amps. Just as I was about to ask him to turn it down, his dad showed up and asked his son to leave. Continue reading “The Power of No (Part 2)”
In a recent panel discussion about parenting on National Public Radio, “When No Means No” (11 minutes of audio), some moms and a family therapist were debating the extent to which parents should negotiate with their children. It is an interesting discussion about how children need to learn to negotiate at home so that they can learn to negotiate the waters of the river of life. There was no debate among the panel members that negotiation is a vital life skill, and all agreed that parents need to teach children how to do it well. The big question is: How do you allow children to negotiate with adults, without allowing them to become obnoxious little princes and princesses who feel the kingdom is entitled to them?
The power struggle between children and parents is a primary issue in every household, in every culture, in every era of history. It should be. How much power should a child have over his or her life? And how much power should a parent exercise on behalf of the child?
As in all things, the extremes get the most attention. The parents who have total authority over their children make the news with their abusive behavior, and the parents who have no authority in their household make the news with their negligence. The children of these extremists invariably suffer from a wide variety of unhealthy mental and emotional problems. Some work it out, in spite of their parents’ grave mistakes, while most do not successfully grow up well. But most of us don’t fall in the extreme cases.
Most parents learn that very young children need lots of boundaries and very little freedom. And we learn that, as time goes by, they should get increasingly more freedoms and responsibilities, until one day they are independent and can handle living alone at college.
But the real question for most of us is something like, “What do I do with my 8 year old who questions and begs and tries to negotiate with me all the time?”
As I walk through the halls after school, there is a barrage of faces along my path. Some I know well; some I don’t know at all. Some are happy; some look very frustrated. But all of these kids have stories inside. Some of their stories are silly — full of joy from a life yet unblemished by heartache or tragedy. And some have stories they keep to themselves because they are not the kind that they want to tell or others want to hear. There are some broken kids out there, some of whom will mend well, and grow up to be good and strong.
As I walk briskly by them each day, I think about what stories I know. Not enough, unfortunately. But I know that boy; he’s has had serious struggles with perfectionism and an eating disorder in middle school and is now very healthy, athletic, and academically successful. I know that girl, whose mother died of cancer when she was ten; her dad remarried a woman whose spouse also died of cancer. Their blended family is an inspiration. I also know the story of that girl, whose little brother has Down’s Syndrome and whose parents are on the brink of divorce; she’s serious, smart, and sometimes silly. Actually, I just know bits and pieces of their stories, but it’s enough to see the depth in their eyes. I know that they know pain.