Parenting Fundamentals 1-5 were presented in Part One. Here are 6-10:
6. Help your child build a strong work ethic. When I was 15 I mowed my aunt’s lawn with a borrowed motorless reel push mower in the middle of a Kansas summer. Whew! She was so impressed with my effort that she gave me $5, which is over $40 in today’s money. As a teen, I caddied to earn money for what I wanted. When a close friend’s father died when he was 13, he had to take over managing the family farm, in addition to class and sports. The bad news: it was tough for him. The good news: he established an amazing work ethic. Today he’s a senior executive in the oil and gas industry, and he can fix literally anything, even without the right tools or spare parts. I’ve seen him do it many times. In the world of work, organizations want young adults who display a strong work ethic. They want entry-level employees to dig in and be part of the solution. They don’t want self-centered, laid-back, complaining kids who think they’re entitled to a promotion for showing up. Young people don’t inherit a strong work ethic. It doesn’t suddenly awaken in them when they leave home. It comes from repeatedly exercising initiative, effort, self-discipline, perseverance and excellence while they’re young. You can help by arranging opportunities to work and encouraging your child to persist through the tough spots.
7. Nurture strong self-esteem. Most of the unfortunate things that teenagers do happen because they’re vulnerable to peer pressure. They aren’t sure they’re worthy of being noticed, liked and accepted, and so they go along with behavior that can get them in trouble. They’re nervous about saying no to nonsense because they aren’t strong and confident in themselves; they aren’t sure who they are or that they like who they are. Doing dumb things is a part of growing up; it’s normal and inevitable. Many parents berate their kids when they make mistakes, instead of standing with them and helping them learn from their missteps. Parents may react negatively out of concern, wanting to correct behavior. Unfortunately, this approach damages self-esteem. Young kids have so much to learn and such a long way to go before they discover wisdom. For the sake of their future happiness, they need your help to survive the pitfalls of childhood while building confidence and a strong sense of self.
8. Support your child’s passionate interests. In my teens I had an amazing passion for golf. In my 20s, it was writing poetry. In my 30s, it was tennis. In my 40s, it was running. I’m no longer involved in any of these activities. Today, I love swimming several times a week. When I was young, rock music was a big deal in my life – Elvis, the Beatles. Today, pop music drives me up the wall, and I love listening to classical music. Maybe the dad was a football player, but the son likes hockey. Great! Maybe the mom is a great public speaker, but the daughter loves curling up on the couch with a novel. Excellent! On the other hand, I’ve known kids who claim that they’re bored, who weren’t intensely interested in anything. Sad! Whatever the passionate interest may be, I believe it’s important for a kid to be excited about something, hopefully not something hurtful or addictive. The behavior pattern of being intensely committed to something can ultimately be the driving force behind a challenging career or raising a family. You might think your kid is too old for Legos, or that the dance class is nice but not going anywhere. You may wish it were photography, chess or computer programming. Just show interest and add your enthusiasm to that of your child. It’s often hard to know how important an activity can be developmentally, and passionate interests change. If your kid catches fire about a particular activity, show your support and count yourself lucky.
9. Share what you know. As I write this, many of today’s generation of young adults are attending “adulting” classes to learn basic skills their parents could have taught them. Stuff like money management, cooking, and home maintenance. I once knew a young woman who didn’t know anything about cooking. She couldn’t even fry an egg, even though her mother was a gourmet chef! I grew up in a large family, and I think my parents were simply overwhelmed by the daily challenge of feeding, clothing and protecting us. They passed on very few practical skills or life wisdom, and when I found myself out in the world I quickly realized I had a lot of catching up to do. Kids need to learn so much to prepare for life, and most of this isn’t taught in schools. They need to acquire values, character strengths, practical life skills, relationship skills, critical thinking skills, and wisdom. That’s a lot, and in the best case you don’t leave this to chance. Don’t do for your kids what they can do for themselves. Give them family chores. Teach them what you know. A child who becomes a self-reliant adult is a fortunate individual.
10. Encourage your child to think. Teenagers do a lot of silly things, and most parents believe that this aspect of immaturity comes with the territory, that it’s a youthful phase they’ll grow out of by the time they’re adults. Wrong. Yes, many crazy-acting teens do learn to exercise good judgment at some point in their lives, but many never do. Good judgment, critical thinking, and executive function are skills. Like all skills, they have to be acquired through practice. In other words, the ability to learn and use concepts, analyze, think logically and solve problems are skills that are learned by doing these things, over and over. The kids who are coached to do a lot of this kind of thinking grow up with more advanced thinking skills. Those who aren’t, don’t. A kid can get lucky if certain teachers facilitate using these skills, or a wise mentor asks the kind of questions that stimulate thought. Parents who give the answers and solve problems for their kids are robbing them of the opportunity to develop fine minds. The foundations for this mental development have to be laid down during adolescence. After that, it’s mostly too late and a young adult has to make do with some serious limitations. Look around you. You’ll see that not everyone is bright. They may be good, hardworking people, good citizens, but not the kind of people who can tackle really difficult problems and careers. I’ve written about this elsewhere. Learn to ask the kind of questions that will cause your child to do their own thinking.
In a way, describing “the biggies” of parenting kind of simplifies it. Focusing on ten fundamentals is easier than reading 100 books, right? Understanding the big picture is helpful, but following through may not be so easy. Take No. 5, for example. You could spend your whole life improving your communication skills. And I think you should. Why not? Think of the benefit to your relationships! So yes, a concerned, conscious parent needs to pursue a serious learning journey while managing the miracle of raising an independent adult. Focusing on these ten basics can help take luck out of the equation.
The context for this article is the subject of Chapter 10 of my new book: How Your Teen Can Grow a Smarter Brain.
Also, you can download 4 FREE guides, including “The No. 1 Way to Nurture the Bond with Your Teen.”