A friend sent me a link to a craigslist’s ad for a unique employment opportunity that she described as fascinating, sad, and perturbing. A family was advertising for a mental health professional to serve as a full-time “companion, guide, life coach, mentor, governess type for their 16 year old child… to help with her school-work, social skills, etiquette and protocol. Help guide her to the next level in life by creating gentle but firm ground rules.”
My initial reaction was also to be fascinated and perturbed. I wondered what had happened to undermine the ability of these parents to give their child all of those things that they were now willing to pay someone else to do. Having raised four children myself, I am fully aware of the challenges. As we know, kids don’t come with a manual and despite our best efforts they persist in making their own way in the world. Bumps, bruises, tears and hair pulling are all part of the package.
But this ad seemed so extreme:
- Is this the cutting edge of services for the wealthy?
Has parenting become so difficult that we need a professional degree to get it right?
Wealth Does Not Guarantee Good Parenting
It was clear from the ad that this family was privileged with lots of advantages and resources at their disposal. Yet their wealth had not provided immunity from life’s problems. The applicant needed to have experience with troubled youth, challenged individuals, broken homes and estranged parents. Sounds familiar.
The media is filled with stories of affluent young people who are drowning despite (because of?) having all the advantages. Many seem unable to live a life of substance and meaning. There are also extraordinary young people from all social classes who are thriving and contributing positively to society. Gift that it is, affluence apparently has the power to build or destroy. What makes the difference? No one sets out to ruin their children. Is there anything that parents can do to develop character, values, and a commitment to living a life of purpose?
Helpful Guidelines to Raise Your Kids Right
Most people fall into a parenting style that fits with their beliefs, experiences, and personalities. But social science research does have something to add. Those who study parenting have identified ways that parents can make a difference. They have observed that even good parents often fail to use these guidelines consistently and well.
Here are four recommendations to help parents raise well-adjusted kids:
1. Avoid over-protectiveness.
Parents today can’t stand to see their children struggle, suffer or make mistakes. They step in to manage everything from homework to playground conflicts. As a result their kids have no experience resolving problems, dealing with disappointment, or managing themselves. How in the world will they be prepared to handle adulthood? Resilient kids know that they will not fall apart when they make mistakes and have set-backs. Let your kids fend for themselves whenever possible. They can handle more than you realize.
2. Model concern for others.
Too much emphasis today is put on kid’s individual achievements. Parents are obsessed with their grades, athletic prowess, SAT scores, musical performance. Have you ever spent time with a group of parents whose kids are applying to college? It’s all they can talk about. It borders on obsessive disorder. No wonder kids believe that it’s all about them and some experts are saying we are in the middle of an epidemic of narcissisim.
Expose your kids to the idea that they can contribute to the well-being of others. This starts in the home.
- How are they contributing to the family?
- What are they doing in their community to better the lives of others?
Their work responsibilities should include more than homework and practicing their talents.
Provide exposure to the needs of the world.
3. Use rewards and punishments judicially and specifically.
Too many parents misuse both praise and punishment. Instead of using appropriate consequences, they use too many words. They nag, lecture, then yell, none of which is effective. When you punish, do it immediately, mildly, and briefly. Many parents wait too long to levy consequences and then dole punishment that is too severe. Time-out, grounding, and loss of privileges should sting, but not linger. Both praise and punishment should be specific to the behavior; not to the person.
4. Have fun together!
Most important of all is your ability to love and connect. Have you noticed that you can’t force your children to have fun with you? It has to come organically and is easiest to maintain when it starts early. Build fun in when your kids are small and want to be with you. It will make it easier when adolescence hits. Do things together as a family – go to movies, take hikes, snowboard, play music together. You won’t regret the time spent.
It is paradoxical that love requires us to let go of our kids to let them explore, make mistakes, think divergently, and be themselves. The world delivers lots of life lessons than we cannot give them. If we make our homes more consistent with the way they will be treated in the rest of the world, that will help them find their way as adults. Help them become contributors to life, not just consumers. They will be happier as a result!
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