Raising Well-informed and Responsible Future Adults
By Marilyn K. Martin
Raising children who know how to evaluate what they see and read, and then make responsible decisions, is one of parenting's biggest challenges. It literally means the difference between raising a happy and positive future-adult, who will embrace challenges, strive to reach their potential, and be eager to participate in all levels of society, and raising an unhappy, sullen kid who ends up a "drop-out," if not from school then from society.
It all starts with the parents. If a parent spends every evening negatively griping over current events, or anyone and everyone who seems to be trying to keep them poor and unhappy, their children end up just as paranoid, negative, and unhappy. If an authoritarian parent constantly dictates their viewpoints and opinions, while rejecting all their children's differing opinions, their children will most likely end up depressed, rebellious, or suicidal.
So responsible parents need to start by exhibiting a positive, can-do optimism as much as possible. Life isn't always jolly and fun, but parents need to balance their comments, with both the positive and negative. And children need to hear parental thought processes presented calmly and rationally, instead of overhearing talk about family problems or a screaming, accusational argument between their parents.
Children are part of the family too, and need calm and rational clarifications about family problems. "I guess we shouldn't have bought a new car that expensive. These monthly payments are putting too big a strain on our budget. We are going to have to trade it in on something less expensive. Why don't you help us out, and jump online to find a well-rated car in the $$$ range?"
Parents especially need to balance all their more serious comments or viewpoints. ("We generally vote Republican, since we believe in a smaller central government. But this current Democratic government does have some notable achievements about ...".) Explaining parental preferences and viewpoints to children in a clear and balanced manner encourages and empowers children to think for themselves.
It also helps when parents have a wide variety of interests and can transfer their enthusiasm to their children. Parents should discuss current events at the dinner table with their children and respectfully listen to their kids' questions and opinions. Especially with older children, parents can throw out a topic as everyone sits down to dinner. "Let's talk about the death penalty. Who thinks we should abolish the death penalty? Or what crimes do you think deserve the death penalty?"
And children should also be consulted about things around the house and yard. They live there too, and may view their chores in a more positive light if parents include them in the household decision-making process. "Where should we put this end table? This room is too small, and I'm tired of bumping into it."
And, by all means, share in your children's joy of learning. While helping with homework, don't be afraid to say something honest, like, "Huh! I didn't know that." Or "Gee, I always wondered how that worked." Assist them with Internet research, if their search words/phrases aren't turning up the information they need. And be just as happy as your child when you finally find the information being searched for.
These are positive-sharing moments between parent and child, and they teach the child that what he/she is learning has value and importance. They also promote the idea that life itself is a long and enjoyable educational process, as well as promoting the idea that positive and responsible adults are always happy to learn something new.
Parents should NEVER mock or ridicule their children's opinions, no matter how strange or naive. Parents need to respectfully use reasoned arguments to explain their point of view, but never try to change their children's (current) opinions for them.
Like I stated previously, parents can turn dinnertime into a debate, with respectful Point/Counterpoint. Let children think through the issues themselves, and offer comments (if not opinions). This can both strengthen family bonds and make dinnertime a more robustly intelligent activity for all concerned. Sometimes parents may not know that their children are getting the hard-sell on certain hot issues, from teachers or friends. So children need to be educated, not just lectured at, if only to give them intellectual ammunition to form their own opinions. Even if it means a child’s politely ducking the next hard-sell with, "Well, my mom and dad think ..."
Parents also need to encourage each child to have hobbies or special interests, even if parents need to help the child get started by purchasing the start-up products. Everyone in the family should be encouraged to be positive about each child's hobby. And use those hobbies as starting points, when trying to think of meaningful birthday or holiday gifts.
Parents should also extend that hobby/special interest to positively address important areas a child is weak or uninterested in. If a child doesn't like to read, gift him/her with a specialized magazine subscription about their hobby or interest. If a child has a problem picking up after themselves, they can be gifted with a small animal in a tank or cage. Parents can carefully explain to that messy child that this animal's environment has to be kept clean, if the animal is to be healthy and survive.
Conversely, if an overly enthusiastic child charges into more projects than they can possibly ever finish or do justice to, parents need to sit that child down for a gentle talk. What exactly are that child's key interests? Is there a way to combine several projects or interests into one? What periphery, lesser projects can be eliminated? Maybe a simpler or more advanced approach to a key project will help ensure that the child will stick with it.
Parents need to explain to children like this that, despite applauding their enthusiasm and can-do attitude, being a Responsible Adult requires focus, determination, and follow-through skills. And littering their lives and environment with dozens of dropped, half-baked projects is expensive and wasteful. Better for this gung-ho child to learn these valuable lessons now, than end up as an adult with multiple small businesses run badly, with unfilled orders and mounting debt.
Taking these simple steps while raising your children will greatly increase the likelihood they will grow up to be positive, happy, and responsible adults.