by Traci S. Campbell
The road to adulthood for most teens is a challenging one. Puberty, mood swings, insecurities, and peer pressure are just some of the hurdles young people encounter as they prepare to face the even bigger challenges lying ahead for them because of the pressure to fit in and be “popular”. I can clearly remember when the dilemma to wear my IZOD polo shirt versus my off the shoulder sweatshirt (you gotta love the 80’s) was one of my most major decisions of the day!
However, when I look back, I also remember traits and habits that were instilled in me that served as “tools” I have used to weather the storms I have faced in adulthood. These traits and habits can be summed up in two words …. Great Character. This may sound like a trivial (maybe even slightly abstract) concept on the surface, when we talk about practical life skills. But, the effect of having and being mindful of one’s character has far-reaching benefits. Character determines the course of our lives because it is simply the application of certain habits that become “fixed” in our psyche. We then begin to act like we think. And the sooner we develop those certain habits, the better off we are on the road of life.
Just think if character development was just as important and emphasized in school as, say, history or math? We could change the whole shape of future generations, and ultimately the future of us all, by taking the issue of character development in teens more seriously. But, the good news is that we CAN take baby steps and start with the character development of your own tween or teen at home. And what’s even more good news….the road to instilling great character in your tween or teen is very simple to do:
1. Be a Character MODEL: Your teens and tweens are around you more often than anyone … well … if you exclude the time they spend on the phone or at the mall. And what they regularly see will surely rub off. Practice good character yourself and they will soak it in like a sponge! Also practice, and openly discuss your values and morals. It will set up a firm foundation of not only being conscientious of what they do, but it will help to foster open communication between parent and teen as well.
2. Training Begins at Home: The basic things we all learn to do at home at 10 will affect our lives at 30. Saying thank you, opening the door for an older person or lady, or making up beds, etc. sounds insignificant. But the enforcement of these very basic things have long reaching effects later, on how a teen or tween may view life and/or treat others.
3. Practice Prayer Power: Regardless of your chosen religion or faith, the need for a spiritual foundation is vital to you and your teens (or tweens) mental and emotional health, (and studies have shown that those who practice some form of spirituality have a lower incident of heart disease and depression). So, why not make this an activity you do together on a regular basis? This provides two benefits: not only will you spend quality time together, but you can grow together spiritually too.
3. Take Action…Together: While my own mother is no longer with me, the times I spent doing things with her as a teenager are some of my fondest memories. Make it a point to carve out a specific day and time on a regular basis to do fun things together. Make it a top priority and stick to it…no excuses and no cancellations. Memories will be captured for a lifetime and the bond between you and your teen or tween will be strengthened.
4. Credit Card 101: While is it “trendy” to sport the latest fashions and “hip” to have the latest cell phone model, the bill that comes later is FAR from trendy or hip! Teach your teens to be a wiser consumer. Limit their spending and at the same time, teach them money management skills. And remember, how you spend and manage your money will truly influence your teen or tween. Help them to understand that they can still have SOME of the newest material things out there…but they surely don’t need to have ALL of them.
5. More Chores, Please: Another way of looking at chores is to “assign responsibilities”. The assignment and completion of these “responsibilities” will set the stage in your teen and tween’s mind that they have obligations to not only themselves, but to others as well. This will go a long way in how they view their responsibilities in the future. And, like most things, responsibility begins at home, first.
6. Mean What You Say…: especially when the answer is “NO!” As a parent, you will be tested by your teen. All parents have experienced this phenomenon. However, stick to your guns and do not back down when your answer of “NO” is truly in their best interest. Sometimes saying “no” is actually saying “yes” to their overall safety and well being and at the same time, instilling true respect for authority.
7. Be the Boss: Teens really WANT someone they can look up to (whether they admit it or not). They want and need someone that will make them feel protected. And they want and need someone they can get guidance from, especially during the trials and tribulations of adolescence. Establish your ground as a parent and boss…first.
Character development does not have to be complicated or difficult. But it must be consistent and made a priority in your tween’s or teen’s life. Years down the road, they will reflect (as I have) on these teachings and be eternally grateful for the positive impact it will have on their lives.
Traci S. Campbell is an author, public speaker, coach and creator of The C.H.A.M.P Within, an interactive program that fosters strong mental, and emotional health in young people. She also hosts, Heros At Home Radio, a site dedicated to helping and “Celebrating Single Parent Success”.