Character Matters Sooner Than Later

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”

Why Young Kids Should Learn to Use Dangerous Things

Screen Shot 2014-07-12 at 10.06.39 AM
7 year-old has been using tools since 3.

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.

Continue reading “Why Young Kids Should Learn to Use Dangerous Things”

The Power of No (Part 3)

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).

Being the bad guy is easier said than done, and as a parent, teacher, and coach, I often fail to hold kids to account. Continue reading “The Power of No (Part 3)”

The Power of No (Part 2)

Sometimes a bad example is as motivating as a good one. I had just such an experience last Saturday:

Electric guitarGuitar 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)”

How to Negotiate with Children

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?”

Continue reading “How to Negotiate with Children”

The Value of Pain

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.

Continue reading “The Value of Pain”

Prepare Them for Life

Protection and provision are not enough.

“Here’s the paradox: If we protect our children too absolutely, we actually end up exposing them to other risks.  And leave them without the skills, experiences, and minor life lessons that they’ll need to handle the big challenges as they grow up.” (Perri Klass, M.D.)

When children are very young, they must be protected and nurtured in absolutely every way.  An infant is helpless and needy at all times.  He must be fed, clothed, changed, transported, and even cajoled into sleep – or else he will get sick and die.  Babies are totally unprepared for life.  Now flash forward 18 years, and that same human, now full-grown, had better not be helpless or needy, or else something very wrong has taken place in the meantime.  That 18 year old should be a strong, self-sufficient young man, able to learn on his own at school, have a variety of healthy relationships, and be able to do the jobs that other adults require of them, in order to have any success in his adult life.  After all, he is a legal adult with all the rights and privileges that come with: working, paying taxes, continuing education, voting, getting married, having children, and even fighting in a war.  He should be ready to fly on his own – maybe not soar yet, but fly enough to survive.

In a recent article about “helicopter parenting” we get a glimpse of the problem from the eyes of a college professor.  “Kathleen Crowley, a professor of psychology says parents’ eagerness to overdirect their children’s lives has led to young adults who are less independent and creative than the generation before. Twenty years ago, Crowley announced an upcoming test in her college classes and that was the end of the discussion. Now, she says she’s expected to provide students with a study guide so they know exactly how to prepare, and she’s had these same young adults come to her in tears because they’d earned their first B and didn’t know how to cope. Because of this “extended adolescence,” when these students graduate and enter their careers, they’re now offered workplace mentoring and on-the-job training just to ensure their success.” (Jennifer Gish)

So why are so many 18-28 year old men and women still in adolescence?  Why are so many having nervous breakdowns in the midst of their inability to deal with the trials of life?  Why are so many young men and women crippled (socially and emotionally) in the adult world?

The answer may be simple, but the solution is complex.  The young man’s parents, teachers, and coaches may have done a fine job of protecting and providing, but they did not prepare the child for adulthood.  The solution is not so simple.  HOW do you prepare a child to succeed on his or her own?  (The following is not a comprehensive list)

Continue reading “Prepare Them for Life”

Mean Moms

Someday when my children are old enough to understand the logic that motivates a parent, I will tell them, as my Mean Mom told me:
I loved you enough to ask where you were going, with whom, and what time you would be home.
I loved you enough to be silent and let you discover that your new best friend was a creep.
I loved you enough to stand over you for two hours while you cleaned your room, a job that should have taken 15 minutes.
I loved you enough to let you see anger, disappointment, and tears in my eyes. Children must learn that their parents aren’t perfect.
I loved you enough to let you assume the responsibility for your actions even when the penalties were so harsh they almost broke my heart.
But most of all, I loved you enough to say NO when I knew you would hate me for it.
Those were the most difficult battles of all. I’m glad I won them, because in the end you won, too.
And someday when your children are old enough to
understand the logic that motivates parents, you will tell them.
Was your Mom mean?
I know mine was.
I had the meanest mother in the whole world!
While other kids ate candy for breakfast, I had to have cereal, eggs, and toast.
When others had a Pepsi and a Twinkie for lunch, I had to eat sandwiches.
And you can guess my mother fixed me a dinner that was
different from what other kids had, too.
Mother insisted on knowing where I was at all times.
You’d think I was a convict in a prison.
She had to know who my friends were and what I was doing with them.
She insisted that if I said I would be gone for an hour, I would be gone for an hour or less.
I was ashamed to admit it, but she had the nerve to break
the Child Labor Laws by making me work.
I had to wash the dishes, make the beds, learn to cook, vacuum the floor, do laundry, empty the trash and all sorts of cruel jobs. I think she would lie awake at night thinking of more things for me to do.
She always insisted on me telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
By the time I was a teenager, she could read my mind
and had eyes in the back of her head. Then, life was really tough!
Mother wouldn’t let my friends just honk the horn when they drove up. They had to come up to the door so she could meet them.
While everyone else could date when they were 12 or 13,
I had to wait until I was 16.
Because of my mother I missed out on lots of things other kids experienced.
I have never been caught shoplifting, vandalizing other’s property or been arrested for any crime. It was all her fault.
Now that I have left home, I am an educated, honest adult.
And…I am doing my best to be a mean mom just like my Mom was.
I think that is what’s wrong with the world today. It just doesn’t have enough mean moms!

(Author unknown)

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