I am taking off my mommy hat for a second. My kiddos are all still pretty little and I fully accept and acknowledge the fact that I have NO idea what it will be like to raise three teenagers. What I am about to say comes from my ten years of teaching teenagers, which is not in any way the same as raising them. I am writing this list in part as a reminder to myself.
1. Teach your children that they have self-worth by letting them know they are good at lots of “stuff”:
What I mean is, do not spend everyday of your daughter’s life telling her how beautiful she is and then leave it at that. Do not give your son over-the-top compliments about how fast he is, and then forget about everything else he has going on. The best, happiest students I have can pull self-confidence from a variety of places. They know that while they may in fact be beautiful, that looks are not everything and they are willing to put effort into other things as well. Looks fade, the fastest kid in fourth grade may not be so fast when he is in high school. Teach your children that they are wonderful in many ways. Give them a whole variety of reasons to feel good about who they are so that if one of their talents or attributes goes away, they will be okay.
2. Talk to their teachers
I spend 180 days with other people’s kids. I see them in a variety of social and academic settings. I see them interact with adults and hundreds of their peers. I read pages and pages of their writing and listen to the connections they make between literature and life. Trust me, I know your kid! But I should not know them better than you. You rocked them late at night, were there through every milestone, boo boo and triumph. However, you might be surprised what you could learn about who they are at school. Talk to your child’s teachers. Get to know them. Set up a meeting. It doesn’t matter if they are doing well or poorly. I find in bizarre when I have had zero contact with a parent by the end of a school year.
3. Take off your blinders
I have spoken to many parents who believe they know every single detail about the life of their child. Please don’t make that assumption. Teenagers are sneaky and complicated creatures. What they say to you will often be partial truth. Don’t assume they are always safe, always happy, etc. Parents who assume often have blinders on. They assume that straight A’s in school=a perfectly happy child, that when Joey tells them that things at school are great, that they shouldn’t worry. Never, ever stop worrying about your teenager. Ask a million questions, be involved, get to know their friend’s parents, talk to their teachers, drop them off and pick them up wherever they go, check their computer after they have been online. This is NOT to say that you cannot trust them. If you are an involved parent, you probably can but that doesn’t mean you should stop paying attention. Never assume that they are fine, be sure you know.
4. Provide them with opportunities when they are little so they are not afraid to try
There is a major difference between the students I see who have been involved in activities throughout their lives and those who were not awarded with such opportunities. Most of the time this is a socioeconomic issue. It costs money to sign your kid up for stuff. But if there is anyway to get your child into activities when they are little, DO IT. Clearly signing your child up for soccer at age four does not guarantee they will get a full ride on the Harvard Soccer Team. BUT what it will do is give them the confidence to try new things. It will make them comfortable working with a team, being in the spotlight and making friends with people in different situations. When they get to middle school they become much more afraid to try something new, they are so self-conscious that taking risks is hard. Activities help with this. In our town sports and other activities start at age 4, and they cost $25 for a season. That is doable for most people.
5. Laugh at yourself so they know how to do the same
Remember in middle school when you had some huge embarrassing moment? You let a fart slip out in gym class, or you tripped down the stairs in front of a group of the opposite sex. Yeah, those moments can suck pretty bad for the average adolescent. However, how they handle those moments can often be the difference in how their peers handle those moments. Life is SOO much easier if you can laugh at yourself. So what if you screw up?; crack a little joke, smile and let it role off your back. Chances are if kids know how to do that, they will get picked on much less. Children learn this from their parents. I find that many children who struggle socially have super uptight families where laughter is at a minimal. Laugh at yourself in front of your kids, come on, you know you think it is a little funny when you fall on your butt shoveling the driveway.