I’ve been telling my two sons the same message for their entire lives: my goal for them is that they grow up to be strong, kind, solid men of good character. And anything I do or don’t do is in furtherance of that goal.
As a result, both of them (ages 12 & 13) are presently strong, kind, good boys… so far. I’m hardly naïve, and well aware that with the gift of free will, they could one day make destructive decisions which upend all my and my wife’s hard work.
But I wouldn’t bet on that happening.
After all, I had great role models. I was blessed with a strict-yet-loving mother and an even stricter father, which in and of itself makes me rather an anomaly today. Their cumulative life lessons (“Finish your homework before you watch Gilligan’s Island”, “Seriously, you call this clean?!”, and “I didn’t make you watch movies until 4:00 this morning. You can nap AFTER we go to church”, etc.,..) were essential in teaching me right from wrong, and being able to separate the frivolous from the worthwhile.
But they also demonstrated kindness: whether it was their willingness to help us kids (even when we had just screwed up), or the respect they showed their parents, or even the way they treated total strangers, my folks taught us the power and importance of decency.
I will refrain from commenting on the recent antics of Miley Cyrus, a girl who obviously was provided the wrong sort of encouragement somewhere along the line. Nor will I go into the Brobdingnagian list of other child stars who’ve likewise gone off the rails (alcohol, drugs, various acts of abhorrent, destructive behavior), as it would be so long that I’d need a dozen posts to include half of them.
These young men and women get no headlines, no “up close & personal” biopics. There are more of them than we realize: making informed decisions, learning the value of hard work and integrity, and slowly transforming themselves into mature adults. They become our neighbors, friends and co-workers.
In short, they become the sort of persons we want our sons and daughters to befriend or marry.
Reaffirming our children’s behavior is important, but what sort of behavior we reaffirm is exponentially MORE important. If we only (or even mostly) celebrate their intelligence or singing talent or appearance, they’ll get that message, loud and clear. They’ll learn that honesty is less laudable than getting straight A’s, and being considered beautiful is a worthier pursuit than practicing kindness or humility.
An old boss of mine had a saying that has stuck with me, and I long ago incorporated it into a truism of parenting by replacing “employees” with “children”:
“Your children are listening to everything you say.
They’re also listening to everything you DON’T say.”