As an author of several books for teens and tweens, I spend a lot of time hanging with and observing kids. There are so many doing right, but they rarely make the news. More often than not, we are hearing about the bad our kids do, especially of late. In the last year or so in Birmingham, countless youth have been arrested for murder, robbery and a host of other crimes.
It got me to thinking, what we as parents can do to help our kids. Here’s what I’ve come up with.
- Be a parent. This might seem simple to many, but it’s worth saying. I am my child’s parent, not her friend. As one of my clients once said, we can be friendly, but at the end of the day, even if I ask her opinion about a situation, what I say goes. Period. I don’t care if she gets mad, and she better not catch an attitude. Bottom line: I’m the momma, and my job is to raise her to be a productive citizen. Maybe we’ll be friends when she’s an adult, but for now, I’m momma all day every day. That responsibility started the moment she was born, and I take it very seriously.
- Make your kids go to church—and be active. My daughter is made to do a lot of things she might not want to do. Church may sometimes be one of them. It was the same way for me and my brothers as kids. We went to church so much, that some days it felt like that’s all we ever did. Not only did we go, but we were very active. Now, I get why my momma did it. As adults, my brothers and I are still actively involved in the church. Were we perfect kids? No. But I know church made a difference, which leads to my next point.
- Create a village. Growing up, there were a lot of folks who had permission to talk to us—and honestly, they could spank us too—if my brothers and I were out of line. I’m the same way with my daughter. There are family and church members who will get on her if she’s doing wrong. On the flip side, if she has a problem and for whatever reason, she doesn’t want to talk to me, she knows she can go to them and talk. I need the support, and so does she. In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with acting right because you’re scared someone your parents knows is going to say something to you—or worse tell your parents. Do I trust everyone with my child? No. But I encourage you to find people who can help you raise your kids. You can’t be everywhere. Your child isn’t going to tell you everything. Put people around you who care enough about you and your kid to look out for both of you.
- Talk to your kids—and listen. I’m so guilty of having days where it feels like all I’ve done is fuss at my daughter—I’m talking at her, but not to her. There are also times I’ve caught myself being more interested in finding out what’s happening on Facebook than hearing about her day. I try and spend quality time with my daughter every day, just talking about…whatever. I’ve learned to stop and look directly into her eyes so she knows she has my full attention. It’s amazing the things you learn just by talking to your kid—I know a whole lot of eighth-grade drama just by asking things like what’s the best (or worse) thing that happened to you today. Literary critic Catherine M. Wallace once said, “Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.” I couldn’t agree more.
- Teach them how to treat you and others. I have a confession: My daughter thinks I’m a little crazy. I’ve had this motto since she was young: Wherever she acts a fool, I will act a fool. If she decided to throw a temper tantrum in the store, I’d snatch her up right there. There’s no waiting until we get home. Cutting up in school? I’m that momma who will show up and embarrass you in front of your friends. Talking back and stuff that’s cute at four is not so cute at 14, so I never allowed it. As a result, my daughter respects me and has a healthy fear of me. I also show her I’m human and I model the behavior I want her to have. If I feel like I’ve overreacted to a situation, I will apologize to her. I say “yes, ma’am” and “no, sir” to kids and adults.
I think to help my daughter be a better kid, ultimately, I have to strive to be a better parent.