August 14, 2007

“Back When I Was a kid . . .”

Teaching Our Children with a Reasoned Approach

When we are making decisions about how we will be raising our children, we must eliminate from our minds some rather dysfunctional phrases. We simply must not allow ourselves to say things like: "Back when I was a kid..." and "If I had done that when I was a kid, my dad would have..." or "Back when we were in school they used to..."

There is an important distinction to make here. I am not saying that parents should not respect the past. Much can be learned from our past and much of our past experience can be very helpful to us in effectively raising our children.

That being said, as parents, we must never allow ourselves to fall into the trap of using "because it was done before," or "it has always been that way," or "that was the way my parents did it," as the sole justification for our actions with our kids.

Give Children Sound Reasons to Adjust Their Behavior

It is imperative that we have sound behavioral, moral, spiritual, ethical, or legal justifications for the actions we are teaching to, or demanding of our children. We must be able to explain to our young people why we are asking them to behave in a particular manner in a very logical way. In essence, we must not only decide: 1) WHAT it is that we want our kids to do, but we must also decide 2) WHY we want them to do it! "Because it was done to me," should never a good enough reason to repeat an action or expectation with our children.

Some History Should NOt Be Repeated

There have been a ton of mistakes made in the past and we are doomed to repeat them if we are not careful to think long and hard about the justification for duplicating those actions with our kids. Following are a couple examples to demonstrate what we are talking about.

Two historical events demonstrate the obvious problems with doing what has always been done before. Slavery was not only common but it was also legal in early America. We certainly would not advocate the continuation of that practice today simply because it was done before.

Neither would we teach our children that women should be second-class citizens in the United States even though they were not even legally recognized under the Constitution until the 19th Amendment was adopted in the early 20th century. Simply saying that women should not vote only because they never had in the past was a ludicrous idea.

Likewise, it is foolish for us to tell our children that they should wear certain types of clothing simply because that has been an appropriate style in the past. The same goes for hairstyles and many other standards and customs for behavior. Let's take look at establishing dress codes for kids.

Certainly, I am not proposing that parents abandon all standards of dress for young people! However, I am saying that we parents ought to make the standards logical and explainable in a reasoned sort of way and not just on the "If I had dressed that way my Dad would have killed me," sort of an explanation.

Parents ought to establish dress codes for their children... but “WHY do we have them?” should be the critical question. Nobody, in their right mind would say that we scrap any sense of awareness of how our children dress themselves. However, dressing in a certain way simply because a previous generation did is a rather silly code to impose upon our children (unless, of course, we would all like to go back and begin dressing like our forefathers who wrote that Constitution did, simply because "that's the way they used to do it in this country.") Hey, to put this in perspective, let's all get a few pictures of ourselves as teens and we can readily see that even we had some rather strange ways of dressing by today's standards.

The issue is "why?" Why are we asking our kids to dress in certain ways?

Here is a possible discussion:
"But Dad, why can't I dye my hair blue (wear spandex shorts to church, wear this provocative Jennifer Lopez top, use four letter words at the mall like the other kids, etc.)?"

"Well, my child, you probably could do that and in a perfect world it really wouldn't matter. But, we do not live in a perfect world. We live in a world that has a few flaws: one of them being that most people in this world make a ton of snap judgments based upon some rather narrow preconceived ideas. It is a fact that most of the people you meet will not be able to see beyond the blue hair (or loud dress, etc.) to get to know you. It is critical that you know that many of those same people are in positions to control the circumstances of your life or make judgments about you that have a huge impact upon your life. For the same reason that it would be a bad idea to wear a ball cap to a funeral, it is a bad idea to dye your hair blue... most people would interpret it wrongly. A ball cap at a funeral would be viewed by most as being extremely disrespectful of the person being honored by the funeral. Blue hair would likewise be interpreted by most people as a sign of disrespect for others."

"But dad, that's just the point, I'm trying to show my individuality. I don't want to just be like everyone else."

"Great son, I am all in favor of you being a one-of-a-kind individual, but anyone can dye their hair. Dying your hair does not distinguish you in any meaningful way from much of anyone else. If you truly want to be an individual, why not distinguish yourself by being truly excellent at something? Or why not try to distinguish yourself by undoing some terrible wrong done by society? Why not distinguish yourself by making the world a better place? I'd love to help you. What is the cause that you would like to choose? If the only way that you can come up with to make yourself different is dying your hair, I would be disappointed in you because you are such a unique person with so much to offer."

Let us, as parents, become their teachers and give our children some good solid reasons to choose to adjust their behavior in positive and productive ways simply because the sound reasons that we present make sense to them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As always Mac, you make so much sense. You helped me clarify in my mind HOW to ask my two teens to NOT have their cell phone either glued to their ear or with their finger poking in a text. It annoys the hell out of me but that has not worked as a reason as I am "just not living in the real world." Thanks. I am thinking and will formulate a statement that WILL make sense to me and I hope to them. Frustrated Dad