Have you thought about what sort of young adult you want your child to be when he reaches the age when he leaves home? If you could look ahead to their end of school report, what would it say? Maybe you want them to:
• have the courage to stand up for what they believe
• show respect to those in authority
• not be impulsive but think through what they say or do
• have good self-esteem so that peer pressure is not such an issue
• have self-control with words and actions
• manage their time and money sensibly
• be confident socially, communicating with people from all walks of life
• have good friends who have strong values
• not be afraid to take up challenges
• achieve academically and at extra mural activities
• be healthy, taking care of their bodies by eating healthily and exercising
• take responsibility for their actions, attitudes and feelings
• serve others and not be self-centred
• (and most importantly) have a strong faith in Jesus Christ
All these areas can be summed up in one sentence, “I want a wise child who will develop into a wise adult.”
How can we steer our children towards making wise choices? How can we help them avoid unwise decisions which lead to painful consequences? There are four key areas which I want to deal with in this article:
1. Be a good Example
Who we are really matters. We are the standard by which they will judge life. A father with a temper, who can’t control his language and actions can expect his sons to do the same. A mother who is overly concerned about her looks can expect her daughter to be the same. The child who sees his or her parents pray in a crisis will believe God is who He says He is. The child who sees that after he has apologised, the matter is not brought up again, will believe that God is a forgiving God, who through forgiveness gives opportunities for new beginnings and greater joy.
One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is to be authentic – to live in such a way that they can see that we are genuinely attempting to live out what we say we believe. We can never be a perfect example, but even our failings and mistakes can become a vehicle for teaching our children the right response to such events.
2. Set Boundaries
This second key area means being tough enough to say ‘No’ and not being too easily swayed by their emotions. One young man told me: “ I blame my parents for my smoking addiction! When I was 13 they caught me smoking behind the shed and said they would rather I smoked in front of them instead of hiding. The message I got was, ‘It’s OK to smoke!’”
The parent who tells their son or daughter that they must use condoms if they are going to sleep around is in effect saying, “Go on, sleep around, just don’t get pregnant!”
Parents must be unafraid to state
what behaviour is expected and what is wrong, while at the same time praising right choices. We must be able to see the bigger picture of what is best for them, and while we need to be available to listen to their point of view, never be conned into allowing behaviour that will endanger them.
Having a clear set of rules is vital. I highly recommend the book ‘Boundaries for Teenagers (or Children)’ by Cloud and Townsend. They write about how important it is to teach our children to take responsibility for their feelings and behaviour. Setting limits helps children better their lives by teaching self-control and responsibility. Children are not born with boundaries. They need to learn that there are consequences for wrong choices and blessings for right ones.
3. Keep Communication Channels Open
Provide a non-judgemental, “listening” environment in which they can discuss some of the decisions and choices they are facing. For example, help them talk about taking the easy way as opposed to the right way. Are they making the decision based on keeping someone happy, avoiding pain, getting revenge, immediate gratification or meeting a need by using another person? Avoid preaching and a dictatorial approach.
What sort of friends will they choose? Talk about this vital area early on. Every aspect of their life at school and beyond can be negatively or positively affected by their choice of friends. One wise sage in our lives said: “If there’s a boy your son is friendly with who you know isn’t a good influence on him, don’t let your son go to his house, but invite him to yours, so you can be a good influence on him. And keep a loving eye on what is happening. Many an unsuitable movie, porn site or first cigarette has happened at ‘someone else’s house.’ The parents were unaware and the child felt too ashamed to talk about it, but shame, damage or addiction resulted.
Helping them to be assertive in a healthy way is so important. The ‘doormat’, people–pleasing type is in danger of becoming a victim, or passively angry. It is vital that they learn to state clearly what they will and will not do based on their own values and not driven by others opinions or influence. The young adult who ends up believing “I can’t help who I am” has failed to grasp the truth that we always have a choice about how we respond to circumstances.
They need help with managing anger as well. Aggression and rage are behaviours which have damaging consequences. Teach them appropriate ways of expressing anger and frustration and how to make decisions which are not based on anger or other emotional responses. Help them to understand what is in their control and what is not – what is their responsibility and what is not. You want them to feel satisfied and happy at what they have achieved through their own choices.
Help and guidance are often needed in the areas of relationships with the opposite sex and choice of school subjects. The biggest decision they will face is their choice of faith. Who will they choose to put on the throne of their life and trust in? The parent who says, “I’ll leave it up to my child to decide, I don’t want to put them off by pushing my faith,” sets their children up for not believing in anything or choosing a cult which attracts them because they long for meaning.
It is vital that the channels of communication remain open so that parents can provide support, help and guidance in these important issues
4. Give Unconditional Love
Our children and young adults are far more likely to want to listen to us and choose wisely in life if they feel really loved. A lot has been said about this in the book “The Five Love Languages of Children” by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell. We all have different ways in which we receive the message ‘I love you,’ and we each have an Emotional tank which needs filling. According to the authors there are five basic ways we can fill our children’s emotional tanks so that they feel unconditionally loved. These are: Eye Contact, Physical Touch, Focused Attention, Acts of Service and Verbal Affirmation.
There is no greater loving task that we can do for our children than to pray for them. I believe God intervenes miraculously in our children’s lives as we ask for His will to be done and His presence to open up their hearts to be willing to submit to His best, perfect ways. We need to point them to God’s words of advice and guidance in the Bible and know God’s words, having a relationship with Him ourselves. Don’t you just long to be that parent who can humbly but confidently say, “Listen to me sons, pay attention to what I teach you and you will gain understanding. Don’t forget my teaching so your life will be long.” (Prov 4:1ff.)? Oh to be that wise parent!
Maggie Norton was School Counsellor at St. John’s College for many years and is married with four adult sons.
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