Character does count!7
Once a year, we focus an article on “Character Counts”. This program that takes place in most of our local schools with an emphasis on building character in our students while focusing on the 6 pillars of character… respect, citizenship, responsibility, caring, fairness, and trustworthiness. It is meant to build up our youth who are already being challenged at young ages with social situations, friendships and making good choices. As they get older and enter their teen years, it is even more difficult to be authentic and stand by their personal values with the peer pressure.
My heart aches for the families that just lost their children in last week’s college shooting in Oregon. Whether it is elementary school or college, we assume our kids are safe when they are at school. There have been too many tragedies in recent years to the contrary. Many of us feel anger at the perpetrators and often even towards their parents. And while that anger is valid, they deserve compassion as well.
Something is wrong when so many young people are feeling such desperation that they would take someone else’s life and their own lives. In addition to the many shootings around the country, we also have more and more suicide attempts by teens in our own community. We have so many teenagers trying to cope with depression, addiction, ADHD, self harm, and anxiety. We have kids feeling lost and insignificant. We have youth who place their self-worth in the amount of “likes” they have on social media. We have kids who are isolating in their rooms with their phones and computers and not having face to face communication.
So what does this have to do with character in our kids? This generation of youth are struggling. The pendulum swung from the more hands off parenting that many of us experienced growing up to many of us doing everything for our children. As a mom, I struggle daily with finding that balance. Our kids have so much more pressure to prove themselves and the stress is overwhelming however many of them are not gaining the independent life skills.
I am not a helicopter parent. I don’t expect my kids to go to Stanford or get straight A’s. I do expect them to do always do their best, to show up, work hard and be committed to whatever it is they choose to do. And because they have such full schedules, I find that I often do rescue without realizing that is what I am doing. I do this to take off some of the pressure and help things go more smoothly. I don’t interfere with any of their school work but I do jump in and do all of the administrative stuff so they don’t need to be bothered with it. None of these things are bad but what I have learned this past year is that when I do this, I send them the message that they are not capable. Rather than letting them feel the natural consequences of not following through with something or meeting a deadline, or not remembering to take their lunch to school, I fix it so they don’t have to be uncomfortable.
I talk to business owners all of the time who tell me how unprepared so many young people are for the workplace. They are so afraid to fail, they don’t have great work ethic, they don’t want to work their way up the ladder andthey have a sense of entitlement. There are numerous articles about college graduates moving back home because they can’t get the jobs they think they deserve because they are not willing to start at the bottom.
The pendulum needs to swing back to the middle. Our children need our support and deserve the hands on parenting but they also need the opportunity to fall and pick themselves back up. This is probably one of the hardest things to let our children do. Nobody wants to see their child in pain but we also know the joy that you can feel when you conquer something.
I read a great article, How to Survive the College Admissions Madness where the author spoke to numerous college graduates and found it was not the college they attended that defined their growth but rather their journey along the way and for some not getting into their first choice turned out to be a positive learning experience… “Life is defined by setbacks, and success is determined by the ability to rebound from them.”
It takes a village. When my kids were young, I found parenting groups to be such a support system. We learned from each other and supported one another. It is hard to find that support when you are raising teenagers. Parents only want to share about how perfect their kids are and many want to avoid the uncomfortable topics. I hear parents comment… “it is too hard to stay up with technology and kids are going to do what they are going to do” and so they let their kids have unlimited access without boundaries. Others say… “my child is too busy to volunteer or have a job because they really need to focus on their grades.” Yes, grades are important but the classroom does not provide us life experience.
We can’t just focus on straight A’s, the best colleges, being the best athlete… these things are all important but they don’t define us. I could not tell you where most of my adult friends went to college and to be honest, I don’t care. I can tell you about their family, what they are like as parents and how they impact their peers.
I know several teenagers who are athletes that have played on the same team for 6+ years and their schedules have revolved around their sports. Through this experience, they have learned technique, how to be tough and the importance of winning. They have not learned compassion, sportsmanship or leadership. And when they have struggled, they have not been surrounded by support from their teams. They have not learned loyalty or how to show compassion for one another. Winning is great but it does not prepare you for life and it does not always bring out our best character.
Where is the balance? We are raising kids who are being taught the importance of perfection and who hide behind technology to communicate. Our kids need to learn to fall down, struggle, overcome challenges and interact face to face. We don’t learn these character traits (respect, citizenship, responsibility, caring, fairness, trustworthiness) simply by being the best on the team or the smartest in the classroom. We learn them by helping others, facing challenges, showing empathy, going out of our comfort zone, and giving back.
It is time for our kids to learn more about developing their character. Parents, teachers and coaches all need to be accountable for being role models and mentors. We need less emphasis on perfection and more on developing their character.
[Author: Rachael Steidl]