A Teacher’s Playbook for Parents
You notice. You feel the shift in today’s world. We are at a social precipice. Hatred, division, narcissism, and greed are the weeds within the soil we have forgotten to tend.
These days there is a lot of attention about the food we feed our children. Organic options are becoming more popular than ever. Articles and news feeds tell us how to keep our children’s body healthy, but what are they telling us about the less physical side of their health?
Think about that word: Organic. It is associated with words such as clean, pure, unaltered. In a social context the definition is, “a relationship between elements such that they fit together harmoniously as necessary parts of a whole.” We have forgotten that we are all part of a whole. A collective that will determine the quality of life we all get to take part in. We have become so distracted by our own disempowering feelings and insecurities that we have medicated ourselves with toxic relationships, substances, and sheer self-indulgence. It turns out, the seeds we are planting are growing to look like wilted flowers of fragile egos and self hate, surrounded by weeds of intolerance, hate, and addiction.
As an educator my heart breaks daily, as our new way of normal is producing an entire generation of kids who do not know what they need, but know they are missing parts of what makes a person whole. Existing in their world of incompleteness, they have deduced that love and kindness are seen as a form of weakness. They live in a constant state of self preservation. Some choose “flight” and withdraw from the world around them. Others choose “fight” and use their ability to connect in order to tear others down. Then there are those who haven’t decided yet because their choices lay in a world of extremes, so they linger feeling weak or wrong about not wanting to join the majority.
If you are thinking this sounds a bit on the dramatic side, I wish you were right. Unfortunately the urgency for change is real. It is here. Time is of the essence. Hope is running low for the people who are closest to the front lines. Our educators, law enforcement, and first responders are seeing a concentration of trauma that has never been seen before.
The solution does not look or sound like blame. Rather it calls us to stop and pay attention to the weeds we have been too distracted to see. If we could tend our own gardens and lend a hand to others who need help with theirs, we would begin making epic changes for our youth and our families. Everyone plays a part. There are no sides. We are all responsible for the future we are generating.
That being said, I wanted to take some time to put our focus on the lynchpin of our society: family. And every coach knows that to make a team great they need to put together a playbook. So without further ado, let’s dig in:
- Give up on perfect: Failure is a normal occurrence in life. Your child was not put on this earth to redeem you. Your value comes from within you. Your son or daughter should not be burdened with the responsibility of making you feel complete, successful, or accomplished. Those things are on us as individuals to acquire. Our kids have their own journey to forge and they will stumble along the way. They may also choose a path we would not have chosen for them. We are not the keepers of their destiny. We do not get to control this life or world for them. Let go and bury your “ideas” of who your child SHOULD be. Not every person has it in their heart to be a doctor or a lawyer. Some souls are meant for vocations you would not have dreamed of yet. Be the light in the moment to assure your child that they are meant for greatness, but that greatness does not come in the form of wealth or notoriety. Greatness is following the mission and purpose within you to give back to this world for the greater good. Being rich and famous is not a goal. Following your dreams while maintaining your virtue is the real quest we need to evoke for our kids.
- Hold them accountable: Do not suspend belief. It only takes once or twice for a kid to realize that a parent has trumped a teacher or another adult’s decision to catch the “Brat Virus.” I know people think that “those parents” are the few or someone else, but it happens subtly every single day of the school year. From a parent telling their children they do not have to serve a consequence to a phone call demanding that regardless of behavior or scores their precious spawn deserve something they have not earned. Just remember that you are a good parent even if your child isn’t perfect. And here is another spoiler alert: NONE of them are perfect. They are kids and will make mistakes. Accepting limits and responsibility will get them much farther in life than depending on a “get out of jail free” card when adversity comes. Every moment comes with decisions and they must develop that muscle. This will require you to be vulnerable and accept that every now and again your child is going to make the wrong decision. The same painful way they may learn that the stove is hot, they have to explore a boundary and feel the “ouch” to make a better choice next time.
- Have conversations with them: Be present and take time to teach your children the art of conversation. Not the art of proving that “I am right”, but rather the ability to actively listen to someone else’s point of view. Guide them to see multiple perspectives without letting anger dictate their reactions. There are always multiple sides to every story; give them a safe place to explore those perspectives. This can be done through literature or cinema. The family can read a book or movie together and discuss the complexity or problems and character development. This can also be done by modeling that behavior in your interactions. Teach your children that active listening and asking meaningful questions can help you find that there may be a lot of things you didn’t realize or that you have in common with someone.
- Humility: Accept them for who they are, but keep the pedestal up in the attic. Your child is not better than anyone else. They may be the apple of your eye, but in the world around them they are just another member of a global community. They will not get the benefit of the doubt because of their cute smile or their big hugs. They will be judged by their actions and the way they treat people. Some simple ways to do this is have them thank people regularly for their contributions to what they have or what they have accomplished. Teach them gratitude in the moment, and not to take things for granted. Teach them that their material possessions do not add or subtract from their worth. Owning everything new does not make you a more valuable person nor does not being able to afford those things make you worthless to the world you live in.
- Give them the gift of giving: Hold off on those heavy purchases for no other reason than your child’s existence. Try a new approach: take the money you would have dropped on the new PS4 game and have your child participate in the act of giving to others. More important than money, have your child give up his or her time. There are opportunities all around us to help someone out. It could be as formal as helping at a soup kitchen, to as informal as helping a friend move on a weekend when you would much rather be doing something else. Make cookies for police officers or firefighters. Next time you are on a long stroll, bring gloves and a garbage bag to pick up any trash you encounter on your path. The list can go on and on, but the idea remains the same. You are connected to the people and the world in which you live, so take care of them.
- Be Aware: When kids hit middle school they are already submerged in conversations regarding those topics that can be uncomfortable for some to talk about: drugs, sex, racism, sexual orientation, and for a lot of kids political differences. Teachers do their best to create safe environments for kids to explore these topics and the high emotionality that occurs when discussed. However, the seeds of those topics should be grown at home. I know they are your babies, but by 10 years old they are not babies in the social construct in which they operate daily. They are exposed to unfiltered news on tv or on the bus to school. They will ultimately hear information that may be wrong, misguided, or in a rare occurrence accurate but requires an adult’s maturity to process through the content. If teachers had a wish list of topics to be covered at home it would likely look like this:
- Vaping will cause your lungs to shrivel up and marijuiana is still a drug even though it is legal in parts of the country. Parents, please do not offer your children these drugs so they can “relax” or because you think it is not a big deal. If you are reading that last sentence in shock, just know it is way more common than you think.
- Social media is destroying your mind and is toxic to your self development.
- You can have personal beliefs, but they are never a reason to be mean or unkind to someone. Every child is trying to figure out who they are. Remind your kids that the kid sitting alone or being ostracised for any reason is a human that deserves RESPECT.
As you accept that your children will make mistakes, so will you. Be compassionate with yourself. Your humanity gives you golden opportunities to lead by example and show growth of character just as we want our kids to do. Do not give up on the things that matter most. Decency, love, and kindness should not be optional values in our homes, society, or within our culture. We are all called on to play our part in creating an organic future for our children that they can proudly pass down to their own. Show up and grow “goodness”.