Tuesday, December 1, 2015

What do you want for your child?

The only time I remember talking back to an adult as a teenager was while coaching a Little League baseball team. A parent twice as big as me, Mr. Gooch, was riding the umpire, the boys, and me.  I finally marched to the backstop behind the catcher—stopping the game—and yelled at the man, “Hey you! You wanna coach this team?  Come over right now and take this cap.”  I held out my manager's cap and pointed to the dugout.  “Come over right now and take over. You’re the new coach!”  He sat down and became silent, swearing and profaning under his breath.

His son was under such pressure to perform that he would tremble at games and make stupid mistakes. My golly, can’t we let the boys have some fun?  I used to think this was a male thing (Little League dads and soccer dads) until my daughter entered dance and I met the dance mothers. 

What are we teaching our children?
Here’s a tip I gleaned from author Dennis Prager: ask your children what they think you most want them to be—happy, good, successful, or smart (1). I want my children to choose “good.” Sometimes doing what is right does not lead to immediately happiness, such as choosing not to cheat and suffering the “D” grade. Mr Gooch stressed “successful.” He would try to bully the empire into making a wrong call so his son could have a successful experience.

I’ve conducted the Prager survey with many children.  Most think their parents want them to be happy or smart. If a parent stresses “being smart” over goodness, then cheating becomes okay, even a strategy. How many parents willingly intimidate teachers into giving grades their child did not earn so that their child can have the appearance of being smart and successful, or “get ahead”?  What does that teach the child?

A friend recently told me that a child had been caught stealing from his school several times and was taken to the principal’s office. Each time, the parents threatened to sue the school for singling out their child and creating “undue stress.”  What does that teach the child? 

In many cases, we rescue our children from consequences that, if suffered, might help them build character and better prepare them for the real world later. Today, every child gets a trophy, whether they earned it or not. One long-time educator told me, “We don’t have resilient kids because we don’t allow them to fail.” Are we raising facades or good, moral human beings prepared for the difficulties of life? As Neil Maxwell pointed out, “it’s easier to be a character than to have character” (2). Is character really that important?

I’m betting it is, which is why my wife and I do our darndest to stick to agreements we make with our children and allow them the opportunity to experience painful consequences, which are much less consequential now than the harsher consequences of life will be when they are adults. 

What would you do?
Jim Fay, parenting expert, tells the story of a boy who missed six days of school in one term. Three were excused because the boy had forged his mother’s signature. When his mother confronted him, the boy confessed and said, “You can’t tell anyone, Mom, because if I miss five days, I’ll lose my grade, and I’m an honor student. And you want me to be an honor student” (3). 

What would you do? 

Let’s ask ourselves this question: What do I want most for my children—be good (build moral character), be happy, be smart, or be successful?  We want all four—that’s a given—but which is most important to you? And then, we muster up our courage and ask this one: What am I teaching my children through my own actions and words?  Good luck and keep living!

P.S. Here's a picture of my son's Halloween costume which he described as "A soccer referee after dealing with parents and coaches at a little kids' soccer match."


(3) Developing Character in Teens - https://www.loveandlogic.com/