Children of all ages watch everything their parents do. Do you smoke? Do you drink? Do you take a lot of pills? Do you look at porn? It’s difficult to do these things while explaining to your kids why they shouldn’t do these things.
On the other hand, do you go to worship services regularly? Do you lead a youth group? Do you volunteer at area hospitals or take part in a clean up the neighborhood project or get involved in Habitat for Humanity?
Your kids are watching these things too. And whether it’s negative behavior or positive behavior, all kids instinctively want to be like their parents. So rather than just tell them to get off the couch or do volunteer work, it’s important we get off the couch and set the example. The other crucial thing to remember is that the second most powerful influence on our kids other than ourselves is other kids. The point being, the kids they meet while volunteering at hospitals or building a home for Habitat of Humanity are the kind of kids you want them to become friends with, rather than the kids who zone out on cough syrup because they’re bored.
Volunteering does wonderful things for a teen’s emotional, spiritual and mental health. It lets them experience doing something for somebody else, something many teens rarely experience. It teaches them how to work in groups to accomplish something bigger than themselves. It gives them satisfaction of having made a difference. They’ll discover they like this feeling. And soon they’ll be asking to go to Romania to work with dentists in small poor villages – an experience that changed and shaped by son’s life.
What are some things you and your kids could do together?
A. Walk for the Cure. First off, you have to raise money together. Then train together. Then actually walk 60 miles in three days. This event will change you and your child’s life.
B. Serve food at a homeless shelter. You can sign up to do this regularly or one time. And few things are as unforgettable as serving Thanksgiving dinner at a shelter.
C. Habitat for Humanity. The great thing is you don’t even have to know how to use a hammer (though they’ll teach you.) You just have to care.
D. Mission trips. Every church and synagogue takes them. And every teen can’t help but be impacted by the shattering realization of how much worse off most of the world is than they are.
E. Park Cleanups. This is where a child realizes the impact humans can have on the environment. Armed with mosquito spray and gloves, your family will come home with a sunburn, tired muscles and the satisfaction of making their part of their world a little more beautiful.
There are hundreds of other ideas of course. And you can expect complaining for a while. But ignore it. The key thing is you have to set the example. And it doesn’t matter if you like mowing yards or building homes or cleaning up creeks. Because what you’re doing is showing your young child or teenager what it means to give of yourself. Your also spending time together which few parents and kids do. And you’re giving your kids the gift of thinking about somebody beside themselves. A gift that studies show they will take into their adult years. Finally, they are learning about responsibility, and lets face it, responsible kids are less likely to chug cough medicine or light up a joint.
We all want our children to become compassionate, empathetic, tolerant and filled with a sense of gratitude and community responsibility. But first, we have to be the adult we want our child to become.
Harry H Harrison Jr. is a NYTIMES best selling parenting author with over 3.5 million books in print. He has been interviewed on over 25 television programs, and featured in over 75 local and national radio stations including NPR. His books are available in over thirty-five countries throughout Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Norway, South America, China, Saudi Arabia and in the Far East. For more information visit www.fearlessparenting.com.