6 steps parents really need to know*
(*based on US government-led research by Columbia University)
Peer pressure. Academic demands. Eating disorders. Decisions about love, romance and sex. Life goals, and how to achieve them. These are just some of the challenges that children face today – and the age at which they encounter them is getting younger and younger. As parents, are we guiding our children on their journey to adulthood? Are we equipping them to make wise choices? Whether they are still playing hopscotch or sailing precariously through a stormy sea of teenage hormones, are they truly secure in their identities as our valued and loved sons and daughters?
It’s all very confusing and parents often feel like screaming ‘Where’s the manual?’ when it comes to the nitty gritty of childrearing. And while there isn’t one to cover every personality and situation, the good news is that American household name Dr James Dobson has written Bringing up Girls, a natural follow-on to his best-seller, Bringing up Boys. Direct and down-to-earth but good-humoured, Dr Dobson was heard daily until he retired by 200 million people on 4,000 radio stations throughout the world. The father of one boy and one girl, he has been involved for decades in US government family policies. Here, we excerpt six key recommendations for parents from his book…
1. have dinner with your children
Nothing says ‘I truly care about you’ more than spending dinnertime with your children at least five nights a week. More than any other day-to-day behaviour, parents who dine with their children produce healthier adults because it sends the clear signal that their children are a high priority. Parents who miss dinner – no matter what the excuse – are sending the wrong message, and that message is unfortunately being heard loud and clear.
2. take your children to church or synagogue weekly
It’s no coincidence that the most successful anti-drug and anti-alcohol programmes have a spiritual component. If your children are taught at a young age that there’s something out there bigger and more important than themselves, they’re more likely to respect and appreciate the wonders of life, and less likely to destroy it with drugs and alcohol.
3. check your child’s homework nightly
There are two components at work here. First, a parent’s daily participation in the homework assignments communicates that their children matter, and it also serves as an early warning sign if something’s off track. Furthermore, children need to see that their intellectual development is just as important as their physical development. The more engaged a child is in intellectual pursuits, the less likely he or she is to engage in harmful physical behaviour.
4. demand the truth from your children – and get it
Parents who insist on knowing exactly where their children are on Friday and Saturday nights are sending a clear message that not every place, every friend, or every behaviour is acceptable. Children who tell them the truth are acknowledging those boundaries, but if they lie about where they are, they are most assuredly lying about what they do. Deceit in the name of ‘teenagers will be teenager’ should never be tolerated.
5. take your children on vacation for at least a week at a time
Long weekends don’t qualify because it just isn’t long enough to break the daily routine or reconnect the relationship. You need a week without their texting, your emailing, and everyone’s cell phones. There are no shortcuts here. Switching your portable devices to vibrate is not enough. Turn them completely off so that you can turn your children back on.
6. encourage them to participate in a team sport
Sorry, but individual sports and other group activities like band and drama don’t count. Team members are often even less tolerant of substance abuse than parents – for good reason. When teenagers are forced to depend on each other’s physical health and performance, they are less likely to engage in harmful physical behaviour. Peer pressure to do the right thing can be a powerful motivating force.