Editor’s Note — This article originally ran March 30, 2017, but recently received a first place award in the feature writing, series or package category of Baptist Communicators Association’s 54th Wilmer C. Fields Awards Competition. This is part 1 of 4 in a series. We are reposting it as part of the featured award-winning articles produced by TAB in 2017.
Afraid to tell his parents
It’s the second semester of his junior year and Marcus is worried.
Midterm progress reports will be sent home next week and his chemistry and English grades are not good. In fact he’s close to failing those subjects. He wanted to get a tutor but he was afraid to tell his parents how poorly he was doing. Now it’s too late.
Not only did he not get a tutor, but his parents also will know how bad his grades are. They are already talking about college applications and admissions tests so he knows they assume his grades won’t be an issue.
Maybe he should go ahead and tell them but he dreads their disappointment. Marcus thinks he is such a failure.
Parents should offer teens opportunities to be responsible
By Carrie Brown McWhorter
The Alabama Baptist
Rod Campbell loves to show teenagers pictures of his Suburban lodged sideways in a ditch, the front left tire suspended two feet off the ground. The photo is hilarious to him now, though at the time the photo was taken the situation didn’t seem quite so funny to him or to his daughter, who had backed the car into the ditch.
“She was nervous about telling us and a little scared of getting into trouble,” Campbell said. “But she handled it well and learned to be very careful backing out of that friend’s driveway.”
Learning to drive is just one of the rites of passage teenagers face. Changing schools, making a sports team, earning a spot in a school play, going on a first date, getting a job and graduating from high school are just a few more.
Each new step represents a change and even good changes can bring stress, according to Campbell, a counselor with Pathways Professional Counseling, a ministry of the Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries (ABCH).
The size of the change very often correlates to the amount of stress an individual feels, he said.
“Moving from one classroom to another at Sunday School might cause a child to have a small amount of anxiety, while moving with the family to a new town in the middle of a school year might cause that same child to experience tremendous levels of anxiety,” Campbell said.
Though change is not new to today’s teens, parenting styles such as “helicopter parenting” and “lawnmower parenting” have led to an increase in the stress teens experience when change happens, he said.
Levels of change
“These days it is not unusual to meet people, especially young people — children, teens and college-aged kids — who are having seemingly exaggerated responses to what ought to be fairly typical levels of change in their lives,” Campbell explained. “Instead of feeling a bit anxious about the changes in their lives and finding ways to meet them, some kids are finding themselves paralyzed by fear and anxiety, unable to decide how to proceed.”
Research supports the increase in teen stress. A 2014 report by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that teen stress levels were higher than levels reported by adults. Teens reported that school was the top source of stress, followed by the pressure of getting into a good college or deciding what to do after high school.
The survey found that more than one-third of teens reported feeling tired, nervous, angry or anxious as a result of stress.
Parents often want to step in and manage these stressful situations but that is a mistake, according to Foster Cline and Jim Fay, authors of “Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility.” For children to learn to make decisions they sometimes must fail.
“One thing we definitely cannot make teens do is ‘be responsible.’ Responsibility cannot be taught; it must be caught,” the authors write.
Teaching decision making is a process that begins when children are young and continues through their teen years, says Tamar Chansky, author of “Freeing Your Child from Anxiety.” Younger children can choose their clothes, choose foods and make social plans.
Older children should be encouraged to ask questions of their teachers and to order in restaurants. Children of all ages should have assigned tasks like finishing homework or cleaning their rooms but they can be given flexibility in managing their own time to get their chores done, Chansky suggests.
As children mature into teenagers, parents can help them make decisions by talking through the options even as they allow the teen to choose which option seems best. These opportunities to be responsible and think on their own without being told what to do are essential for teens, Cline and Fay write.
“To help our children gain responsibility we must offer them opportunities to be responsible rather than order them to do what we think is responsible,” they explain.
Dealing with worry
Parents also can help teens understand that while worry is part of life, worry can quickly get out of balance. Worry that leads to physical symptoms like overeating or not eating, sleeping too much or too little or feeling irritable all the time are signs of anxiety.
When these behaviors persist for at least three months with no improvement or when a teen experiences an abrupt, dramatic change in mood or behavior, Cline and Fay suggest seeking professional help.
“Seeking professional help is not an admission of failure. In our complex society with its countless social problems, our teens quite naturally face dilemmas that we never had to cope with during our childhood,” they write. “One session with a trained and competent counselor may be enough to straighten out the problem.”
‘Helicopter, lawnmower parents’ miss opportunities for children to learn important life skills
By Rod Campbell, MAMFT, LPC-S
Pathways Professional Counseling
My wife and I were 23 and 27 when our first child was born. She showed up exactly on her due date and just a couple of days later, there I was pulling the Accord up to the entrance of the hospital to bring mom and baby home. As we pulled out of the parking lot, my wife turned to me and said, “They just let us leave with a baby. They have no idea if we know what we’re doing.”
Truthfully we really didn’t know what we were doing. Our oldest laments that fact on a regular basis. She is amazing as a young college student and is much more of a testimony to God’s faithfulness and grace than to our knowledge or wisdom back then. Or now for that matter.
The truth is that parenting is a daily struggle filled with choices that always seem to have great significance. Almost all of us face the fear that we will get it wrong, mess it up or utterly fail as we guide the young lives entrusted to our care. Those fears can lead us to make decisions that are not in the best interests of our children.
You’ve probably heard the term “helicopter parent” to describe those who cannot let their little ones out of their sight for fear that something bad might happen — even if their “little ones” are heading off to college as young adults.
A related description is the term “lawnmower parents.” Lawnmower parents tend to go out before their children, smoothing the way and making sure their kids never meet with any obstacle they cannot easily hurdle. They may not require children to do chores.
They may complete homework assignments and school projects for their children. Or they may intervene in conflicts instead of letting their children work out the problems on their own.
I’ve probably been told a thousand times by parents of school-aged children, “It’s just easier to do it myself and get it over with than it is to teach them how to do it.”
Of course they are absolutely right — in the short-term. But these parents are missing something incredibly important: their children also are missing hundreds or thousands of opportunities to learn very important skills. In the long term, children who are not held accountable for their own responsibilities and/or who have not learned to interact well with others lack important life skills.
Being intentional about allowing our kids to face challenges gives them the opportunity to learn life skills. Not only do they learn how to cook, clean, repair things, earn money, arrive on time and meet expectations, but they also learn what to do when their decisions go wrong.
I would venture to say that 90 percent of people who use an electric hand mixer the first time make the same mistake: they pick the beaters up out of the mixture while they are still spinning. The result of that action is always the same — batter sprays all over the kitchen. But I’ll also bet that most people never make that mistake again because cleaning up that mess reinforces the lesson learned and reminds the user not make that mistake again.
Clearly we have to keep a balance and be certain our kids’ limits are being expanded thoughtfully, strategically and carefully. But our kids will learn far more by cleaning up their messes than they ever will by being held back from making choices.
When we withhold these lessons from our children, we also run the very real risk of unintentionally sending the message that our kids are inept. When we withhold age-appropriate levels of challenge we send the silent message that we don’t really trust our kids to handle important decisions. The result is that they begin to doubt themselves at a core level.
Often this doubt and fear expresses itself as anxiety-driven perfectionism. In sensing that their parents are fearful they won’t get it right, kids begin to fear what might happen if they get it wrong and they over-compensate by trying to be perfect. Our kids need to experience both successes and failures so they understand that no one is capable of perfection.
We all are capable of perseverance, however. The process of learning from failure will help our kids develop self-confidence, core competencies and a robust skill set that will see them have success well into adulthood.
Parents, please don’t fear failure. It often makes for the best stories. Think back on the lessons you learned because you had the chance to get it a little wrong. On my first date I thought I knew which house my girlfriend lived in and ended up going to the wrong door. The 85-year-old man who answered said he was flattered but didn’t need a corsage. Then he pointed me in the right direction. Sure I was embarrassed but that story has brought far more laughter than pain over the years.
As parents we need to help our children experience challenging situations, face their fears, learn from their mistakes, grieve their losses, endure hardship and trust that God is faithful in their successes as well as their mistakes.
Editor’s Note — Rod Campbell is a counselor with Pathways Professional Counseling, a ministry that helps individuals and families seek solutions to their problems through professional, affordable counseling from a Christian perspective. Pathways is a ministry of Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries.
Tips for helping children face fear of failure
- Become a great consultant.
Look for opportunities to think through decisions with your kids. Teach them how to weigh cost versus benefit before they take action. Teach them how to make decisions not just fulfill a list of decisions you want them to make.
- Give them lots of chances to get it wrong.
Don’t just swoop in and fix things when you see something going wrong. Let your kids fail so they can see that life goes on.
- Debrief the mishaps.
When it goes wrong help them think it through. Go through the process of looking at how they originally assessed the situation versus how it actually turned out. Did they listen to advice? Did they make an honest mistake? Did they discover after the fact that they did not have all the information they needed?
- Do not say, “I told you so.”
Once it has gone wrong it doesn’t matter if you were right. It matters that they took ownership, gave it a chance and learned a life lesson in a safe environment. If you gloat in your wisdom, then you take away the safety they need to be willing to try again.
- Celebrate the successes.
Look for every chance to celebrate when good things happen. Positive feedback helps children understand how to respond to success. Recognizing that your child got it right or did a good job can be a very powerful tool in helping him or her develop the skills they need to succeed as an adult.
Source: Rod Campbell
Responsible kids don’t just happen; it’s up to parents to coach, guide them toward success
By Amber Lia and Wendy Speake
Special to The Alabama Baptist
As parents who are followers of Christ, we share a common desire to establish a biblical approach to teaching our kids responsibility and a godly response when they fall short.
Some of us believe our kids will only obey us if we yell at them. But that’s simply what we have trained them to do. Yelling at our kids as a way of getting them to do the things we want them to do is simply not a biblical response.
Proverbs 29:11 says: “A fool gives full vent to his spirit but a wise man holds it back.” Parents who scream and let their words tumble out unchecked are considered foolish. We can feel the tension mounting yet still be like the wise man who “quietly holds it back” and finds a gracious way to communicate. It will take time and patience to turn this around but it’s absolutely possible.
Foundationally it’s up to us as the parents to teach and train outside of times of chaos or in the aftermath of conflict. This is especially true when it comes to messes our kids have made or when they don’t do their designated chores. We don’t need to get embroiled in an argument or lose our tempers over laziness. Nor do we need to scream at them as if they can’t hear us.
We simply need to keep doing the good parenting — going back to the idea that we are coaching our kids toward success.
Here are a few tips and reminders that will help you remain in a position of loving authority while training your kids to do the things you ask of them:
- Keep in mind the goal is to let the kids feel the weight of the natural consequences that come with irresponsibility. Loving consequences look very different from mean-spirited or angry punishments. Angry punishments crush our children’s spirits but loving consequences correct their hearts.
- Use calm and sincere consistency in place of arguing. When my kids begin to protest I simply say, “I know. It’s not always easy to do the right thing. I’m sorry you are feeling so crummy about it. Now go ahead and clean your room. You can do it now or in 20 minutes.” Repeat this dialogue again and again if necessary.
- Study your child as an individual and see what motivates them. For some it will be words of affirmation, so praise them as a starting point to lead into chores. For others it will be quality time — they like to do things with others, so offer them chores they can do with a partner or with you. Notice what makes them tick and then play off their unique strengths.
- Remind your kids the reasoning behind working hard and being responsible: “Whatever you do work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col. 3:23–24). Let’s model this work ethic in our own lives too. Even the patient process of training our kids in responsibility should be an act of worship.
- Don’t take away past rewards. This discourages a kid who worked hard for that incentive in the first place. If they earned something, then keep it in place and use other methods to reach their hearts instead of demerits that will simply make them angry with you and motivate them to give up trying. The Bible reminds us in Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” We don’t want to provoke our kids to anger and this is a surefire way to do just that.
- Let them do it their way. It’s tempting for parents to hover and correct but there is a difference between loving and helpful input and micro-managing. Give your kids space to mature and become proficient in their chores. Affirm the parts they do well.
Serving the Lord
Responsible kids don’t just happen. It’s up to us to train our kids and to lay a foundation of truth that serving the Lord often looks like mopping the floors or feeding the cat. At the end of the day our kids will answer to the Lord for their part but for the angry mom or dad, the only thing better than a child’s clean room is their own clean conscience.
Editor’s Note — This article was used with permission. Adapted from “Triggers: Exchanging Parents’ Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses,” available in e-book and paperback, by Amber Lia and Wendy Speake. Lia and her husband, Guy, are the parents of four young sons and owners of Storehouse Media Group, a faith-friendly and family-friendly TV and film production company in Los Angeles. She writes to encourage families on her blog at www.MotherofKnights.com. Speake (www.WendySpeake.com) is an actress, Bible teacher and writer who resides with her husband and three sons in San Diego.
Coming up in part 2 of 4: Dealing with Disappointment
As parents we need to embrace our past and remember the lessons we learned so we can help our children experience challenging situations, face their fears, learn from their mistakes, grieve their losses, endure hardship and trust that God is faithful in our successes as well as our mistakes.
For many of us, that has not been our experience. Our past may have led us to the place where we still struggle, even as adults with fear, anxiety or disappointment with life. For those of us who struggle, who maybe didn’t learn these lessons when we were young, there is still hope. Coming soon in part 2 of 4 of this series, we will explore what we can do to address those issues as adults.
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