I strongly believe that parenting is an art, and act of love.
Being a parent is easily the most difficult and rewarding opportunity of your life. As a parent and educator with 40-years of experience, I hope to share some wisdom my child-rearing journey has taught me. I will speak often from my own experience, but also from wisdom gained from a long-term cross-cultural research project that produced “The Smartest Kids in the World.” (The faculty’s summer reading in 2022.) I resonated with the book’s insights into good parenting because it highlighted parenting principles. Principles that support building not just great students but happy and accomplished people and is also based on data.
Most parents would agree that their goal is to raise independent, self-reliant, resilient, and successful human beings.
Through our prayers, support, wisdom, and by the grace of God, I have seen those results in the lives of my students and my own children. I often marvel at the growth and achievements of my former accomplished, difficult, and awkward students. To see the huge majority having grown into successful and productive human beings with big hearts is immensely rewarding. But raising great students and people is hard work and requires a willingness to be counter-cultural. I submit this wisdom to you humbly and with joy.
Principle #1: Be a trusted adult, not a friend to your teenage child.
There will be a time in life for you to be friends, good friends even, but what they need as teens is boundaries and direction. I have watched many parents struggle with this issue. They lose hope when they are not “liked” by their children. Most kids will express their disgust and dislike for you when you set good boundaries. Particularly, single parents who may find their children the only people they can lean on for emotional support. This gives those students unwarranted power in the relationship, which makes it hard for these generous-hearted parents to set safe boundaries.
Psychologists often describe this parenting style as “permissive” and you’d probably not be surprised to learn that it’s often the result of having been raised in overly strict or authoritarian environments. Sometimes these parents learned the lesson that a “my way or the highway” style of parenting was unhealthy. They’ve failed to strike an effective balance and tilted too far in the opposite direction.
Safety is always a good measure of any decision, as it ensures that your child is protected from harm.
It is a principle that should always be applied when setting boundaries and making rules for your teenager.
According to Richard Ryan, a former mentor and national speaker on schools, parenting, and addiction, it is important to ask yourself if allowing your child a certain privilege puts them at significant risk for emotional, physical, or relationship damage. For example, should they attend an unsupervised party? Should they drive with a known drug user? Should they go to an area known for high crime? Should they stay out late on a school night? These are all important questions to consider when making decisions that affect your child’s safety.
As parents, we must have high expectations for our children’s academic success and be actively involved in their education.
This is a key aspect of good parenting peripherally identified in “The Smartest Kids in the World.” Parents in high-performing countries such as Finland, South Korea, and Poland set high standards for their children and expect them to work hard to achieve them. They also create a home environment that supports learning, providing their children with a quiet, comfortable place to study, and limiting distractions such as social media and video games. This is tough for a lot of us, as these are exactly the things which are preying on our children’s attention, celebrated by modern culture. It’s incredibly difficult to explain to our children that what they see as annoyance or harm, is for their own good.
A trusted adult will set high expectations and create a supportive home environment, equipping their children with the tools they need to succeed academically and in life.
It is important to remember that as parents, our goal is to protect our children and ensure their well-being.
Saying no to certain privileges may make you unpopular with your teenager, but it tells them that you care about their safety and that you love them. This is a hard balance to strike, but it is important to not give in to the pressure of your teenager’s demands by prioritizing safety and a culture of high expectations, you are setting a foundation for them to make wise decisions in the future and instilling in them the importance of self-care and protection.
My wife has always been a model of how to relate to children.
She connects intensely by asking about their day, interests, and shares her love of nature and the world. She is a kid magnet. I was reminded of this while I write this, and I watch her sitting on the floor with my 10-year-old granddaughter chatting about an art project they are doing together. But Laurie has always been clear about treating people fairly, doing chores, encouraging achievement and learning in school, living by commitments, and not being in unsafe or compromising situations. It made her immensely unpopular with my teenage daughters, while today, she’s a dear and trusted friend of my now adult wives and mothers. As children, she did not rely on them for friendship, but it grew regardless because she was a trustworthy adult.
We must learn that building self-disciplined, loving human beings is our goal, not being appreciated by our teen children.
Next week, we will dive into the question of creating happy children.