As our kids grow older and more independent, there are increasing moments of frustration and desperation at my seeming inability to “parent” my own children. When they were younger my sphere of influence felt absolute. I was “daddy” and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Now the influence of liberal media and peers raised by less concerned parents have reduced me to a puny human.
In an earlier post, I shared the values my wife and I have worked to instill in the kids by modelling behaviors, encouraging active participation in positive groups, and staying involved in their lives. We limit access to the Internet and television, monitor website activity, stay tuned in on their social media, and attempt to discuss actions that concern us. Our boundaries and discipline seem fair, balancing a desire for control against the reality that strong, successful individuals develop with some amount of freedom. However, it seems we’re too often swimming upstream against world values contrary to our own, eroding an investment of twelve plus years with the force and speed of a flash flood.
My immediate response to being “punified” is to shout like Hamlet, “Get thee off to a nunnery!”, and entrench the kids behind walls Pink Floyd never conceived of. Having just suffered the pains of a relocation, becoming a “doomsday prepper” in a woodland castle is really not an option, despite the appeal of a drawbridge and moat. So what’s a puny father to do?
As I was considering more radical responses, the counseling team at our high school intervened with more practical advice during freshman parent orientation. They suggested focusing on four “C’s”:
- Character – In his blog on character, Michael Josephson explains that “people of good character are guided by ethical principles” and “character is established by conscientious adherence to moral values, not by lofty rhetoric or good intentions.” Kids develop character through parental example, and more firmly through programs like Boy and Girl Scouts or church groups that teach moral codes. A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.
- Competence – Success is the result of hard work, dedicated effort, and commitment to developing required skills and knowledge. While the public education system attempts to prepare our kids for college or career life, parents shoulder the burden of developing competencies in life skills; budgeting and finances, health and fitness, organization and self discipline.
- Chemistry – High School is an adolescent mixture of hormones, developing brains, and temptations…a potentially toxic, dopamine-driven environment where kids in puberty rely more on other pubescent teens than their parents. Apparently all fathers become puny humans at this point. Maybe I need to find a support group.
- Communication – According to the counselors, our best hope for surviving the teen years is to strive for open communication with our children. Help them feel comfortable discussing feelings and questions about what’s happening with them. Tune in to their concerns and issues through “active listening”, the practice of thoroughly understanding your child before offering advice. Finally, trust but verify. Trust your child will act with character and responsibility, then verify they followed through.
Apparently there’s no magic bullet, teenage quick fix, turmoil-avoiding solution to raising happy, well-adjusted kids. I should file away the castle plans, and forgo digging a moat, since the princess in the tower will fly away in a few short years regardless. It appears the counselors have validated our parenting approach of involvement in solid programs, and we can only hope the kids will talk to us when tempted by stupidity or values contrary to ours. I can always Google up a convent or seminary if the world threatens to eat our kids too often!