Alan Carson has given us permission to excerpt from his book, Before They Know It All…, Talking to Tweens and Teens About Sexuality.
I suggest we have a philosophy regarding all aspects of parenting. Our philosophy acts as the template for our decision making, communication, and responses when we have concerns. We should have a philosophy about chores, school, responsibility, respect, and friends. These questions should help us develop our parenting philosophy:
- What is our vision for our children by the time they leave home after high school?
- What skills and character traits should they possess?
- What values do we trust they will have incorporated into their lives?
- Will we raise our children to be independent, or do we value interdependence?
- Will we be authoritarian parents, permissive parents or authoritative parents?
- Will we rescue our children when they struggle?
1) Parenting requires having a vision for our kids.
What skills, qualities, and character traits do we want our children to possess by the time they leave our homes? I realize this list could be exhaustive, but they boil down to a few, major overreaching goals. For example:
a. I really want my daughter Sarah to be able to function successfully and independently after high school. That would involve self-discipline, a sense of responsibility, work ethic, organization, respect, passion, people skills, communication skills, determination, and good decision making.
b. I want Sarah to be a happy person who believes in making a contribution to her community. Therefore, I want her to be compassionate, loving, caring, and appreciative.
2) Parenting requires creating a vision for ourselves
Who do we need to be in order to influence our kids to become the people we want them to be?
In my case I wanted to:
a. Demonstrate to my daughter my commitment to parenting—time, energy, and thoughtful decision making.
b. Be a role model so that Sarah would respect me and want to follow my lead. As parents we model everything, but the big ones for me are emotional stability, effective communication when problems occur, kindness, strong work ethic, physical exercise, good nutrition, reading, and not swearing, drinking alcohol, or displaying anger in a destructive manner.
3) Parenting requires connected relationships.
If we are not connected, we will not be able to influence their decision making. It is likely at some point that we may not like their music, television shows, friends, clothing, or academic grades. However, we cannot let these frustrations cause disconnection. If we do, then why should our kids care what we think about parties, sex, alcohol, smoking, and body piercings?
They won’t care because they don’t have a healthy attachment to us. The Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development published a report titled “A Matter of Time” and concluded: “Young adolescents do not want to be left to their own devices. They want more regular contact with adults who care about them and respect them.”[i]
4) Parenting requires an authoritative approach.
Authoritative parents put an emphasis on communication and teaching and hold their children accountable for their choices. Authoritative parents are loving and affectionate but establish expectations and enforce them. Research shows that children raised by authoritative parents do better in life! Basically, children learn they are responsible for the quality of their own life. They make decisions and if they make poor decisions, they learn things don’t work out well. Regardless, the kids know our love is not conditional.
5) Parenting requires letting go.
We can’t treat a 7-year-old like a 5-year-old or a middle school tween as if he’s in elementary school. Babying our kids will not lead to success. We need to prepare them for life, not protect them from life. By seventh grade, our kids should be able to wake themselves up and be ready for the bus on time, cook simple meals, do laundry, and complete homework with minimal help. The second aspect of letting go involves those things our child wants to do—go to sleepovers and dances, stay up later, and get a Facebook account. Regarding privileges they want but don’t need, we should remain firm that our kids must demonstrate responsibility and good judgment.
6) Help kids find their way through challenges.
The more age-appropriate challenges our kids face when they are young, the better, as struggle is a gift. It makes us tough and resilient. Overcoming one obstacle allows us to be optimistic about overcoming the next one. Using school as an example, let’s say your fourth grader has a very difficult teacher who assigns a lot of homework, demanding projects, and gives difficult tests. As a parent, you may feel that this teacher’s standards are not reasonable for a 10-year-old and feel inclined to call the principal. If your child can adjust, make the sacrifice, and work through it, he’ll be in a good position to say to himself, “If I can succeed with Mrs. Jones, I can succeed with anybody.”
7) Parents are responsible for their child’s self-worth.
We want our child to believe he is worthy of respect and possesses many good qualities and abilities; not that he is incredible, and doesn’t have to wait his turn, share, or sit and listen. Inflating a child’s self-esteem will cause him to experience many disappointments in life. He’ll only fall apart and give up when he gets frustrated. Instead, allow him to earn his self-esteem. Display unconditional love, recognize all of the good things he does, and avoid expressing criticism; and he’ll develop the appropriate skills to be successful.
8) Effective parents discipline; they do not punish.
There is a significant difference. Punishment is power-based, involves anger, seeks to see the child “pay,” and involves minimal communication. The message is, “Do what you are told to do and everything will be fine.” Discipline is love-based, is addressed with a neutral tone, seeks to help the child learn for the future, and involves regular communication. We want the child to learn from his mistakes and become wiser for the next time. There is a consequence, as we affect their standard of living. Punishment is counterproductive because the focus is now on the parent’s emotions instead of the teen’s poor behavior. We want the child to conclude, “I have made a big problem for myself.” Discipline will lead to the ultimate goal: self-discipline. Our kids learn that when they make good choices, things work out for them.
9) Parenting requires that we avoid power struggles.
They create disconnection as we’re attempting to force our kids to do something they don’t want to do. This becomes very problematic by the teen years, when developmentally they begin to have minds of their own. We can’t make people do anything. What we can do is work to have a connected relationship with our kids so that they want to please us and not disappoint us. To make this real, let’s say my daughter went to the mall and bought an immodest top with birthday money. I would be starting a power struggle by saying, “That top makes you look like a street walker—you aren’t going to wear it, and we’re taking it back!” While a parent should be concerned with immodesty, the goal is to address the clothing in a non-confrontational manner. For example, “Sarah, I am very concerned that the top you bought will convey a message to guys that you wouldn’t want to convey. You have to decide how you are going to present yourself to your peers. I want you to be fashionable, but classy.”
Communication, problem solving, and looking for a win-win are the goals. However, if I draw a line in the sand, Sarah will be in a fighting mood. Not only will this create ill will, but I have to be smart enough to know that I have virtually no control over what Sarah wears. Why? Because Sarah can have friends bring clothes to school and she can change in the restroom. The same goes for any place she goes with her friends. I end up looking stupid and weak by fighting a battle I can’t win and have undermined my authority and our relationship.
10) Parenting requires using the problem ownership model.
This model begins with us asking ourselves, “Whose problem is it?” The answer is: the person who is affected by the problem. If my daughter doesn’t remember to get her lunch off the dining room table on the way to school, it isn’t my problem and I shouldn’t get upset about it. Problems fall into one of three categories: child’s problem, parent’s problem, or relationship problem.
a. Child’s problem: If our kids have a problem, our role is to listen, accept, and validate what they are saying. It is not our role to fix the problem or make it disappear. Listening to our children will help them identify and express their feelings, with the opportunity to solve their own problems. For us to tackle problems that belong to our kids is to rob them of this opportunity.
b. Parent’s problem: This is when our child creates a problem for us; our child isn’t upset and may not care, but it affects us. Shoes in the middle of the floor, towels on the bathroom floor, lights left on, and burned CDs lying everywhere create stress for us. Our ideal approach is to make “I statements” and communicate to our child how her behavior impacts us. For example, rather than saying, “You are a slob—clean these toys up,” we say, “I see toys everywhere. I expect them to be cleaned up before dinner.” Again, when we have a connected relationship with our kids, they likely will be considerate and respectful.
c. Relationship problem: If our child’s behavior is causing us to feel less connected to her, then we both need to sit down and talk about it. We voice our concern, our daughter gives her point of view, and we make sure each of us is heard; then we begin brainstorming options. We choose a solution that we both can live with. The goal in a conflict is to resolve it in such a way that two people who were not happy with each other now feel closer— because they each listened, were respectful, and reached a solution acceptable to both.
11) Teach children to be good thinkers.
We don’t solve their problems; we use our wisdom to help them to learn to solve their own problems. We do that by expecting them to do the thinking and to consider alternatives. For example, the principal calls to tell you that your son will be suspended for a day the next time he is tardy to school. You can tell John how to solve the problem, or you can teach him to solve his own problems by asking higher level thinking questions:
- How do you feel about the principal calling me?
- How would you feel about being suspended?
- What impact would that have on your basketball playing status and your commitment to the team?
- Have you thought about how you can solve this?
- Would a suspension appear on your college transcript?
[i] Patricia Hersch, A Tribe Apart, Ballantine Publishing, 1999, p. 364