That quote, “Children do what you do, not what you say,” is very, very true!
Parental integrity is a huge factor in whether a teen’s transition to the real world after high school goes smoothly or not. It’s crucial that they see you personally applying to your own life the principles you are telling them to apply to theirs. No child wants to listen to a hypocrite!
Our family happens to be a praying family. That’s not to say everyone has to be, but that’s a part of our daily life. We try to eat dinner together every night, and we always pray before the meal.
One of the reasons we do this is because we legitimately believe that when we say our thanks out loud—and ask for help and guidance with our concerns—it makes a real difference. The second reason we pray together with our kids is that we want them to be praying people, too. How reasonable would it be to expect them to be persons of faith if they never saw us exercising ours?
We try to be similarly open in other areas of our life, and endeavor to lead by example. Whether it’s matters of faith, finances, relationships, work ethic, and more, we hope our teens and adult children see us living life with transparency, humility, and integrity. When they can, it makes it more likely that they will follow in our footsteps as we move to the passenger seat and let them take over.
Consider the following arenas and assess the degree to which what you say lines up with what you practice:
- How you talk about other people when they’re not present
- The kind of language you use
- Physical health/nutrition/exercise
- Tobacco and alcohol use
- Viewing habits (media/online/movies/TV)
- Relationships (commitment, respect, honor, forgiveness, faithfulness)
- Work ethic
I knew one family who had significant issues with their two teen boys and the way they treated one of the parents. The boys spoke disrespectfully, were critical and sarcastic, and lived with an attitude of entitlement. The parents were understandably upset by the situation.
After spending some time in their home, however, I quickly became aware of the real origin of the problem. One of the parents treated the other in the same ways the boys were behaving! These boys were only acting out what had been modeled for them—and the offending parent was completely blind to it.
Walking our own talk makes it more likely that when our kids leave home, they will walk theirs.
Arlyn Lawrence is the co-author of Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World, and What I Wish I Knew at 18: Life Lessons for the Road Ahead (available as a leadership and life skills curriculum for teens in standard and Christian editions). Arlyn is the mother of five grown children and grandmother of two. She and co-author Dennis Trittin speak and provide resources for parents, teens, educators, and mentors about building “life literacy” in children and young adults. You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter!
Image Credit: MVCS