Parent Trap: Family Values
Family values have taken a back seat in our culture, so I suggest you ‘begin with the end in mind.’ Based on where people spend their time and energy, it’s clear that we are indeed focused on ideals like immediate gratification, consumerism, achievement and fame. The results: excessive amounts of stress, anxiety and discontentment.
Parents and their adolescent children wear stress as a badge of honor. Girls compete over who is the most stressed out. Their conversations go like this: “Oh my God, I am so stressed out. I did four hours of homework last night.”
“That’s nothing. I was up until 2 a.m. working on a project.”
“Big deal. I’m lucky if I can get to bed by 3, and then it takes me an hour to fall asleep.”
Teen girls admit to me that their homework load and lack of sleep feel like a competition. Many tell me that they feel abnormal when they are not stressed out, so they fake it to fit in. Girls today are under an inordinate amount of pressure from parents, teachers, coaches and colleges. But they have added an extra, unnecessary layer of pressure due to cultural and peer influences.
Parents have a role in this as well. I have done an exercise all over the world using Stephen Covey’s idea of how to begin with the end in mind. I have parents create a list of ‘end in mind’ qualities they want their children to exhibit as adults. Typically, they list traits like happy, determined, compassionate, strong and creative, to name a few. In the 18 countries where I have done this, I have never had anyone say they want their kids to get straight As, get accepted into a top college or earn a national championship in sports. Yet, where does most parents’ energy go these days? Running their kids around to practices for club sports teams and academic enrichment classes. Their badges of honor are about having a child on the honor roll, achieving a scholarship to an elite university or being on the best club soccer team in town. Just as teen girls compete over who’s the most stressed, parents seem to jockey over who is the most busy and anxious.
I encourage you to sit down with your spouse and create your own ‘end in mind’ for your children. What kind of people do you want them to become? What qualities are most important to you? It’s not our job to mold children into our vision for them, but it can be valuable to have guideposts for how you parent. Invite your children into the conversation and decide as a family what is important to you. Hopefully, you all will value things like down time, balance, family time and time spent outdoors. When it comes time to make decisions, I’d use what you value to guide your choices versus going along with the crowd.
Tim Jordan, M.D., is a behavioral pediatrician who works with girls in grade school through college in his counseling practice and camps. His newest book is Letters from My Grandfather: Timeless Wisdom for a Life Worth Living. For more information, visit drtimjordan.com.