Raising kids in this day and age is no easy task. And as if that is not enough, you have to know that you have very stiff competition. That competition’s main aim is to find what it is that sets them off, maximize their triggers in order to sell them their wares and ways and to keep them as returning customers. That competition is the media. They’re masters at salesmanship and propagandizing.
The most important factor for any salesman is their knowledge of what it is that their customer, your child, is feeling at the moment and what it is that they want to do or become that answers those feelings. Right now, they’re way more ahead of the game than you are. It’s not that they’re innately better at it than you. It’s that they have taken the time to think through how to reach them. Remember, that’s their job. It is their only goal; to make them addicts for whatever it is that they’re peddling. Right now they’re doing a better job at raising your kids than you are. The key that is their “edge” is that they have the time and ability to listen. But you have an edge too. The media knows this. It’s that you’re their parents and that your children want you to listen and care. So, the media’s best ally is the time that they have available with your child that you don’t. If you don’t believe me, just look at all the influence and advertising above and beyond TV, their biggest tool. Your best ally is that your children want you to care. Knowing this, you’re making the time to listen can be your best ally in regaining the control of their futures for them.
So, what is it that thwarts your ability to invest the time? Life. Just life. Paying the mortgage, putting food on the table, clothing you and your children, planning their education, finding the means to pay for it and a whole host of other distracting factors that steal time away from you being able to be with and emotionally support your family. All the terrorism, politics, murders, school shootings, pedophilia and a whole host of other things that the media over-emphasizes in their incessant broadcasts only serve to heighten your fear of protecting your family and doing the “right thing.” They’ve got your number too.
So how can we make up for lost ground in regaining an effective rapport with our kids? We must make the time to re-prioritize our lives so we can have the meaningful conversations with our children that answer their emotional needs showing them that we are listening and that we do care. Telling them all the things that we’re sacrificing for them and all the things that they must do in order to make their lives run better (than we did) only serves to make them feel guilty, resentful, obligated and drives them further away. If that’s all they hear, of course they don’t want to listen! How did you feel when your parents told you what they were sacrificing for you, what to do, how to think, what to want and what will happen if you didn’t follow their lead? Your kids are not stupid. They see the stresses you’re facing. Do you think they want to saddle up for that? I think not. They’re looking for something more meaningful than just advantageous survival, although they’re just not experienced enough to realize it yet. Perhaps you are. Perhaps you realize that if you had had conversations with your parents that would have addressed what you felt and you thought, you might have grown up feeling a little more trusting and confident in your own ability to handle life and its twists and turns a little better than you have up to this point. All I’m saying is that, most likely, your Self-Trust and Confidence were never really addressed or encouraged by your parents. They were just doing and reacting to what they were facing in the outer world and protecting you from it just like you’re doing for your kids right now.
So, how do we converse with our kids so that we hit pay dirt in helping them to find value in something more than what the media is peddling? We can ask the following questions that will do two things; show them that you actually do want them to know that you care about them and are emotionally supportive of what they’re feeling and starting the ball rolling in a direction that gives them the Self-Trust, Confidence and opportunity to develop their ability to direct their own lives through addressing their inner urges and needs…what it is that we didn’t receive from our parents. So, let’s start with the list.
There is one parameter or condition I’d like to set here before we begin. Our kids will all benefit from our encouragement beginning at any age but I’ll address the following questions to children beginning around the age of puberty since they’ve had, at the least, some time in accumulating life experience and are in the process of developing some of the rational capabilities minimally needed to think through what they’ll be facing for the rest of their lives…no easy task for a teenager.
1. Ask them what excites their interest. What it is that excites them and arouses their curiosity in life? What and who would they would like to be like and live like? What is it that they long for? I don’t mean getting a fancy car, having a date with their most preferable partner, having lots of money and freedom or being old enough to stay out late. We all know what most teenagers want at that age. It’s what the media has made them fantasize or romanticize about. But what is it they have an inner burning urge to do or learn about? Every little kid wants to be a fireman or an actress. But, are they draw to archery? Painting? Music? Science? Another culture? When they imagine themselves in that role or doing that activity, what do they feel? What do they think it can do for them?
Once you’ve asked this question and they’ve answered, and they will probably look very surprised that you did, ask them what they think that they could do now or what can they plan in the future that will put them within the grasp of fulling that imagined role. This question alone will open two doors for both of you. First, it will begin to let them know that you truly do care about them and what they feel. And second, they may realize you as an optional resource or sounding board for bouncing off ideas as to how they might be able to arrive at their most private dreams.
2. Ask them how they think you’re doing as a parent. This question alone may come as a shock to them. The fact that you care about what they feel relative to how they’re being raised will show them your openness to their feelings and perceptions about your parenting. But it does something more. It puts you on an equal footing, person to person basis rather than a parent/child format. This temporarily puts aside the authority/obeisance rapport that parents and children almost always get locked into producing irreconcilable resistance over a developing autonomy. It doesn’t mean that you have to stay in that space always requiring their input, but it lets them know that you acknowledge that they too are growing and becoming an adult which shows your allowance and encouragement of their self-determination which, in turn, will earn their respect for you and that lets them know that you have respect for them. If your parents showed respect for your growing maturity, this will be easy for you to do. If not, you will have to “feel” your way through this domain sensing when the parent or authority role must take precedence over a person to person equanimity. It lets them know that a parent/child rapport is not always necessary and that a shared adult person to person rapport is possible and in the works.
3. Ask them what they would like you to do with them, and then make time to do it. Time is our most valuable and most evasive resource, especially when we’re so pressed into providing the material support required to maintain our family’s survival. We show love by giving our time and attention to another. By asking and following through with your child’s request for your time and attention will do a whole lot in showing them and helping them to believe that you care about them and that they have support. There are way too many “latch key” children in our culture. When children don’t feel like anyone cares about them, they seek their nurturance from peer groups. This accounts for many of the gangs that kids find themselves in leading them toward acquiescing to hazing and rites of passage simply to earn the loyalty, love and comradeship they’ve been unable to get at home. In doing this they earn a pale reflection of their potential personal worth. It is my belief that the obsession many people feel with Face Book substitutes for much of the family love and intimacy lost through our culture’s dissolving nuclear family and prior felt closeness. The loss and inability to initiate and maintain personal intimacy learned in our earlier historical family structuring is a much more serious issue than current day psychologists allow credit for. For many people, feeling unloved and unlovable has escalated to epidemic proportions. The sad part is that we don’t even know that it is such a dominant part of our contemporary emotional landscape. Is it really any wonder why so many people are on anti-depressants and other mood altering drugs or seek to escape themselves through hallucinogenic and illicit drug use? We can’t even name, let alone recognize, the unworthiness so many of us are feeling. Perhaps, even the increasing advent of teen suicide is testimony to feelings of emotional isolation and desertion being on the rise as they come to feel that they’ve no support in handling what should only be considered the natural ephemerality of our feelings. In other words, having feelings of emotional isolation and unworthiness and feeling that they have no support and one to talk to about it is slowly becoming accepted as being “normal.”
4. Ask them what makes them happy, sad, angry, afraid or lonely. Doing this will do three things. First, it will allow you to assist them in putting into words and thoughts feelings which are natural and often fleeting as their situations change. Second, it will subtlety let them know that you are an avenue for them to process these feelings so they can, third, allow themselves to relax into them knowing that they are temporary and that they have the ability to reframe how they perceive them or if they feel they can’t, know that “this too will pass.” This line of thinking is an underlying current helping us, and them, into understanding that we are much more than what we perceive about ourselves in the moment. Interacting with your children in this way also eases some of your own emotional residue left from early experiences and faulty perceptions assumed about yourself and your worthiness. The more you are able to process your own self-worth and Self-Trust, the better the job you will be able to do with your kids. Raising them is a two way street for self-awareness and emotional understanding.
5. Lastly, but I’m sure there are many more variations of what I’ve described here, ask them whom they respect and why. This will give you valuable insight as to where and how they place value on their lives, you and their interactions with the world in general. Respect is a synonym and reflection of the ideals they’re beginning to form. It can be an indicator of both whom they admire and whom they fear, which often can be the same person(s). Our life experience and what we feel about it are prime movers for how we form our chosen beliefs contributing to how will continue to address the world and how we assess our place in it. This is why every generation has had a fascination with super heroes and why the media has capitalized on our idealization of their abilities. It allows us and our children to see how it’s done, believe that it can be done, imagine ourselves performing the same feats and what Self-Trust and Confidence would look like and feel like in action. The question then becomes, can we, and our children, transfer that respect and admiration to those in the real world around us but, more importantly, can we accept and activate those qualities within ourselves? Listening to our children is one of the best avenues for helping them to develop their Self-Trust and Confidence and assisting them in believing that they can become self-determined in their world. This is probably the most valuable gift that you can give them. Can you be secure enough to allow it?