One year ago, my then 20-year-old son and I were driving on a road trip. It was the end of summer and he was getting ready to go back to college. He is a science guy—brilliant in biochemistry and engineering—but he’s also a great conversationalist on all sorts of issues. Like parenting.
Since I was preparing to give a parenting conference a few weeks after our road trip, I decided to solicit his advice. No, he had never been a dad, but he was fresh off of his childhood and was establishing life on his own. Maybe he had some advice about what kids really need from their parents. What should they do and what shouldn’t they do?
I prepared myself for an earful about the mistakes I had made, took a deep breath and asked him what he thought I should tell parents at the conference. “So, if there is one thing parents need to do to raise good kids,” I asked, “What do you think it would be?”
Without hesitating he said (as only a wise, self-assured young adult can say), “Oh that’s easy, Mom. Just tell the parents to behave.”
I was taken off guard. Behave? Maybe he didn’t hear me correctly. I meant what should parents do in order to get their kids to behave? I repeated myself and got the same answer. Then, he realized that he needed to explain his answer to me.
He easily ventured into describing what he saw as good parents—and bad parents. “Mom,” he started. “You can’t believe how many parents act stupid. They party, act like kids, and don’t pay any attention to what their (high school) kids are doing.”
I took inventory of his friends and tried to think which parents he was referring to. My son attended a medium-sized Catholic high school with motivated kids and parents, and I was still surprised by his answer.
Then he continued. “Parents need to understand that their behavior has a big influence on their kids. They think kids aren’t watching, but they are. And when parents act immature, kids hate it. And, it’s important for parents to hang out with good friends because kids watch what their parents’ friends are doing, too.”
Then, I took inventory of my own friends. Almost as if he could read my mind he said, “One of the things that I’ve always appreciated about you and Dad is that I know your friends and they’re great people. They think like you and Dad, and I feel good when you’re with them.”
Wow. My son was not only paying attention to my friends; he liked them!
Of course he made perfect sense, but I had never thought about parenting this way. We focus on our kids and their behavior so much that we fail to focus on what really impacts them—our behavior, our conduct, and our friendships.
FROM A KID’S PERSPECTIVE, WHAT PARENTS DO IN THEIR PRIVATE AND PERSONAL LIVES HAS AN ENORMOUS IMPACT ON THEM.
We either make them feel secure or we throw them off balance. When we act like them, by drinking too much, spending too many nights out with friends at parties, or simply pay too much attention to ourselves and too little on them, kids act out. When we behave like grown-ups, kids feel secure and excel.
How brilliantly simple and poignant his advice was. Behave parents, behave. Act like a grown up and you’ll raise a boy to be one, too. If you don’t want your daughter to party, don’t party.
And don’t forget your friends. They matter, too, so choose ones who aren’t just good for you, but good for your kids, too.