In my last post, I shared some ideas for helping make homework time a more peaceful and successful part of your family life. In reflecting upon the importance of academic success for our teens, it occurs to me that there are some key subjects in life of far greater importance than those that make up a typical high school or middle school curriculum. Let’s take some time to reflect on a few of those, and consider how we may help guide our kids to greater success in the most important facets of life. Even as I would love to hear your ideas about the most important “subjects” in life, allow me to offer six. I hope you will consider not only how you would grade your child or teen in each one, but also consider how you are doing as a teacher, coach, and mentor in each area:
1. Personal Integrity. As your child grows through adolescence and adulthood, will he or she be known as someone who is genuine, honest, and trustworthy? Will others be confident that they can count on your son or daughter to “walk the talk?” Will he or she be the kind of person to live free from the fear of skeletons wandering out of the closet? If and when you catch your teen in a lie, or somehow covering or distorting the truth, don’t just punish. Use it as a critical opportunity to teach about the tremendous worth of personal integrity – both now and throughout life.
2. Personal Responsibility. Are you training your daughter or son to face their own tasks, challenges, and life problems – or teaching them that someone else will take care of these things for them? Does your teen understand the difference between asking for help or support and asking for a bailout? Which do you emphasize more in your home: externally recognized achievement or internally motivated effort? (Not that these two are mutually exclusive, but it is still a question worth really considering.) Are you still leading your teen by the hand to take care of required tasks, or is your daughter or son learning to show their own initiative?
3. Social Skills. Is your son or daughter learning to genuinely consider how his or her actions and words affect others? Can he or she respectfully and comfortably engage in conversation with adults, other teens, and younger kids? Do teammates and coaches consider him or her a team player? Can he or she put as much effort into collaborating as into competing? Are you seeing both confidence and humility reflected in your teen’s life? Have you been teaching the importance of showing compassion toward others, and perhaps even the power of fighting for those who are oppressed?
4. Spiritual Growth. How proactively are you training your teen to understand and experience purpose in life? Is your daughter or son as interested in displaying virtue as she or he is at displaying fashion, gaming success, or athletic prowess? Is your child showing any interest in somehow making the world a better place? Does prayer have an important place in the rhythm of her or his life? How effectively could your teen articulate beliefs about God, life, faith, and what matters most?
5. Personal Hygiene. Laugh if you want, but some teens could really use some help in this department. And if we, as their parents, aren’t the ones lovingly and intentionally helping them to properly care for and present their bodies, who do we think is going to do it? Regular bathing/showering, face washing, using deodorant, proper brushing of teeth, self-respecting care of hair and even clothing, etc. How’s that going with your kids? Do they need some new lessons or reminders?
6. Problem Solving. How often do you allow your child or teen to struggle with a dilemma before stepping in to offer guidance or a helping hand? Has he or she learned to use creativity in the process of facing new situations, or is there too much reliance on a memorized list or formula? Does frustration, helplessness, or anger often short-circuit the process of problem solving, or do you see a patient and determined ability to keep pressing toward resolution?
Each and every one of these life-subjects can make a huge impact on your teen’s journey of success or struggle through the avenues of adulthood. And while you may struggle to answer your kids’ frustrated question about when they will ever really use algebra or calculus after graduation, you should be able to offer countless examples of when their “grades” in these subjects will make a world of difference along the way. Take some time with these. Reflect on how each of your kids is doing in each subject. Consider how you can be more proactive in teaching and coaching. Recognize them for their strengths! Help them where they are struggling. And find help for them or for you, if you aren’t sure how to help them yourself. I’ll be glad to help, if you need it.