Times have changed.
Kids today are exposed to distractions we could not have imagined. They are influenced by an avalanche of media and information that threatens to swallow them up. Despite our best efforts to protect them, many are getting lost.
They are becoming disconnected from us and life.
We are losing them to the world of alternative reality.
We are losing them to fantasy.
Many spend hours a day playing video games, where they are having adventures, making friends and accomplishing things in a world that doesn’t really exist. Others spend hours a day watching television or movies. Kids who spend too much time here are not investing in making real friends or accomplishing real things. They are literally missing their life.
Still others spend hours a day reading the latest teenage romance books. One girl told me she had read the entire series of vampire romance books 32 times. She was literally living in the books. I wonder what other experiences she is missing out on.
Don't get me wrong, I am not discouraging reading. Reading is a great hobby for children and I strongly encourage it.
It is only a problem if they are spending all their time reading, watching TV or playing video games, instead of doing other important things like building relationships, developing talents and using their creativity or accomplishing goals.
When children spend too much time in fantasy, they eventually struggle with their identity and self worth. They may not know who they are anymore. They develop low self esteem, which triggers an increased desire to be someone else or be somewhere else.
This is an alarming and vicious cycle.
We, as parents, have to be more on our game than ever before. We have to be smarter and more involved in our children’s lives and activities. We can’t just shoot from the hip. We must develop a parenting plan ahead of time.
Here are some principles that will help you raise confident healthy kids.
1. Be proactive and create experiences for growth and accomplishment.
Plan some projects or activities for your family to participate in together. Make some goals, do a service project, plan a trip, make some money together, take up a hobby or a sport. Sit down as a family and decide on some things you want to accomplish. Shoot high. You will be amazed at what you can do.
Two years ago my children decided to take Christmas to four orphanages in Mexico. My children were kept busy for months raising money, wrapping presents and planning their trip. It was an experience they will never forget.
2. Help children figure out who they are
Twice a year (before school starts and in January) I sit down with my children and ask them to brainstorm about what kind of person they want to be this year.
What kind of a student, sister, brother, daughter, son or friend do they want to be?
What do they want to accomplish this year? Who do they want to be?
I encourage them to figure it out now.
I ask them to write these ideas on a card in this format:
"I am a caring friend who is always there for my friends when they need me.”
“I am a loving daughter that always helps my parents.”
"I will earn the money to buy a new bike this year."
When they have decided who they want to be ahead of time, it is easier to make good choices each day. Encourage them to keep this card and read it daily.
3. Give children as much liberty and free agency as possible.
Free agency is the principle of governing our Heavenly Father chose to govern his family. He chose it because it creates maximum learning and growth, which is his ultimate goal for us.
Force and control may produce more obedience in children, but without the opportunity to think through problems, listen to their intuition, make choices and experience the consequences, children don’t learn anything from the experience of being obedient. Children learn best when allowed to make their own decisions.
I recommend giving children every possible opportunity to make their own choices and experience the full weight of their consequences. Smart parents ask questions to guide a child’s thought processes in the right direction, but they let children figure out answers for themselves.
Your children will make some wrong choices with this plan, but rest assured, the lessons they learn from those choices will be well worth it.
4. Get children involved in creating structure and rules in your home
When people have a vote in establishing laws, they are more likely to honor and respect those laws. I recommend having family meetings and discussing what rules would be necessary in your household and what the consequences for breaking those rules should be.
Only establish rules for the really important things like protecting each others' rights and for dividing up the responsibilities of the home. Encourage children to set limits on TV, books, video games, etc. for themselves. What would be an acceptable amount of time for me to spend in fantasy? How else could I spend some of my time?
Encourage good choices by having a lot of open and validating conversations with your children about what they think and what they want in their life. Open communication will create smart, confident children.
5. Lead and motivate children through love, not fear
Our Heavenly Father wants us to make good choices because we love him — not because we fear him. He parents us with love. He doesn’t berate us for our mistakes. He doesn’t say, “I told you so” and he doesn’t tell us how stupid we were.
He doesn’t need to; we already know.
He lovingly lets us experience the consequences of our choices and loves us through them.
We would be wise to follow his example.
Children respond best when treated with love and respect. When parents are kind, encouraging, loyal and respectful, they earn the same back.
If you want your child to respect what you think, then respect what he or she thinks first. Ask lots of questions and do even more listening. The more you listen to your child and honor and respect their right to think and feel the way they do, the more valued they feel and the more they will respect you back.
When fear motivation is used, children will stop obeying as soon as they are out of your sight. Children who are loved and respected make good choices because they want to.
You can do this.
You are the perfect parent for your child.
Kimberly Sayer Giles is the founder and president of LDS Life Coaching and www.claritypointcoaching.com and was named one of the Top 20 Advice Guru's in the country by GMA. She resides in Bountiful, Utah.