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Raising the Bar for Today's Youth

by Jeff Yalden

Today's youth are part of a generation where they are more focused on their rights and their privileges rather than their responsibilities and their obligations. Some parents want to blame the media for this trend; others point fingers at the teachers. However, the media is not responsible for educating kids or instilling values in them, and teachers are obligated to focus on academic content only.

So, who is responsible for the current generation's mindset? Quite frankly, it's the parents.

Neither the media nor teachers can discipline children or place moral and ethical expectations on them. But parents can, and they should. Unfortunately, too many parents are trying to be their kid's best friend and are neglecting their inherent parental duty - namely to mold their children into responsible adults. Therefore, for today's youth to excel tomorrow, parents need to raise the bar and expect the best from their kids each and every day.

Raising the bar means building relationships with kids that emphasize responsibility and moral behavior. Such an endeavor begins with trust. But while it's easy to choose to trust a particular person, creating trust in others, especially in young people, is a difficult task. However, the more trust you build with your kids, the greater their sense of responsibility will be. Use the following parental principles to raise the bar and begin trusting relationships with your own kids.

Keep your word and follow through consistently

Too many parents say one thing yet do another. For example, if a child acts up or breaks a rule, the parents may say they are going to dispense discipline, but they rarely do. How many times have you heard parents tell a rowdy child, "If you don't stop doing that, we're leaving right now"? When the child continues with the behavior, do the parents stay true to their word and leave the establishment? Not usually.

Unfortunately, most parents don't realize what a damaging message their lack of follow-through sends out. By the parents not following through, the child learns that he or she can continue to get away with whatever he or she is doing without fear of discipline. The parents are essentially saying, "It's acceptable to display rowdy behavior."

The most competent parents know there will be times when they must sacrifice their own comfort, fun, and entertainment for the sake of disciplining their children. When they say something, they stick to it. Their very actions tell their children, "We will not tolerate your lack of consideration and lack of thinking, and nor will anyone else." As a result, the kids know what their limitations are, and they act accordingly.

Set expectations early

Young people today want expectations, rules, and responsibilities. They want the adults in their life to tell them, in clear dialog, what they are supposed to strive for. Unfortunately, the messages parents send kids regarding expectations are often misconstrued.

What are your personal expectations for your children? Do your kids know what you expect of them? Do they understand those expectations? Most parents have never voiced their expectations to their kids, and if they did, they didn't state their expectations clearly and in a way the kids could understand.

Even more damaging, during the past two generations our country has evolved into a society that allows kids more freedom because parents don't want to upset them. We need to move away from this mindset and focus again on expectations and on teaching our kids how to live within certain societal guidelines. Doing so will actually reduce the stress kids feel today because they won't have to belabor so many decisions. They'll have clear-cut guidelines for what is right and wrong, and they can act appropriately to meet their parents' expectations.

Accept your child's uniqueness

Many parents attempt to relive their own youth through their kids. As a result, parents often send messages to their kids that say, "You're not good enough as you are; you should be like this instead." If kids feel as though you won't accept them for who they are - limitations, uniqueness, and all - then they'll naturally turn to outside sources for acceptance and they won't seek your guidance for the help they really do need. When kids find someone who will accept them, whether it's an adult or a fellow teen, they gravitate towards that person immediately.

As adults and role models, we must show kids that we accept them for who they are and appreciate all they have to offer. Parents need to remove impossible and often meaningless expectations, such as "I expect you to get straight A's," and place the expectations on the child developing his or her unique talents. So if a child comes home with a 72 percent on a test, realize that scolding and yelling won't encourage the child to strive for higher grades. Instead, ask the child, "Did you do the best you could?" If the answer is "yes," then congratulations are in order, not lectures or punishment. As long as the child exerts full effort, then that child is a winner and deserves the respect and acceptance of one. The more parental acceptance a child feels, the harder he or she will work to achieve goals and live up to expectations.

Know when to change yourself

Despite a parent's attempt to raise the bar on his or her children, many parents still face episodes when their children intentionally lie to them. Parents need to understand that when a child lies, he or she is sending one of four messages: 1) "I don't think you (the parent) are strong enough to handle the truth;" 2) "I am too ashamed to take responsibility for what I did;" 3) "I can talk my way out of anything because you as a parent are so gullible;" or 4) "I don't have to be honest with you because I don't respect you as my parent."

If your child is lying because of reason number four, then it's time for you to take a good look in the mirror and determine how you can become a better parent so your kids will respect you. Evaluate your own guidelines of right and wrong and determine where you need to change your own values before you even attempt to change your kids' values. All kids look to their parents for guidance. Are you living the kind of life you want your kids to copy?

Take Action for the Future Today

What we do today creates our tomorrow. What type of community are we going to be living in if we don't raise the bar and expect more of our kids? While our young people may not be 100 percent of our current population, they are 100 percent of our future. With that in mind, every adult needs to start acting like a role model so today's kids have the influence and guidance they need to be tomorrow's responsible leaders.

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