We are going back to a series I had started quite a few posts ago. In the “An Interview With Ponyboy” series, I talk about some of my experiences being a therapist at a residential center for young boys. It was here that I learned some valuable lessons about working with troubled young men. It is my desire to share these lessons with you so that you might raise your young man in a manner that will help them brave and understand a world that can be unforgiving at times. I believe, in this particular case, these lessons can be applied to raising up young women as well, as these lessons are universal. This time, I wish to share with you some critical “structure” ingredients to help children grow into healthy, mature adults.
I remember walking up to one of the dorms to meet a client and looking up to see a posse of young boys howling like wild animals on top of the roof. They had to be at least 12 feet off the ground. There was another time when we had to get a young man safely out of a drop ceiling before it caved in beneath him. That’s what it looks like when children are not taught healthy boundaries. When they believe that they can do anything that they want to, without consequence, they often degenerate and put themselves into dangerous situations. We may think that we are being bad parents when we set guidelines for what our children can and cannot do. However, we are truly doing our children harm when we allow them to freely run amok. The problem with letting a child run every aspect of their lives is that they do not yet have the experience to make decisions based on sound discernment. When we set healthy limits, we also provide a safe environment for children to explore the world around them.
Tell Them “No”
When I was working with the boys at the residential center, the worst thing you could possibly say to them was “no.” “No, you can’t throw a football at another kid’s face while he is lying down; “No, it isn’t okay for you to skip class so you can play video games all day;” “No, we can’t make a fourth alternative for you because you don’t want pizza, left-over pot roast, or a PB&J sandwich.” These are the kind of things kids would punch their staff leaders over. Do you remember Varuka Salt from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? She was a real brat! Here parents were living under the fallacy that it was more important to give her what she wanted than it was to give her what she needed. Varuka needed to be told “no”- and your child needs to be told “no” too. You might not believe this, but telling a child “no” is part of being a loving parent. They need our help to discern between what is good for them and what will do them harm. We all know people that want more than anything to be a friend to their children. When children are young, they don’t need a friend, they need a parent. As your children get older and learn to care for themselves then, by all means, be a good friend. Yet, they need to be grounded in reality and brought up with wisdom at an early age. Get comfortable with the word “no” and your children will get comfortable with it too. Not only this, but they will love you for it when they are older.
Give them responsibilities
I was surprised to see how many of the boys at the residential center didn’t have experience with chores or working a job (if they were old enough to). When a child does not have responsibilities, they grow up lacking the skills needed to be dependable and industrious. Those are two qualities that every employer will be looking for when your child starts looking for a job. The earlier that a child starts taking on responsibilities in the home, the more opportunity they will have to practice these skills. Whether we decide to give our children choirs or we teach them that caring for the family is its own reward, we need to be giving them some role in the home. It is important to consider a child’s development as we give responsibilities. A four-year-old child cannot mow the lawn (at least, I don’t know of any that can). I have seen children put toys back in the toy box at the age of two. Here is a website that offers some ideas for age-appropriate chores written by Sarah Aguirre of The Spruce: Click Here.
Help them make a plan
Parents are future-shapers, whether we see it or not. What we say and do with our children will have some level of “nurture” effect on them. What holds many young men and women back as they get older is having no plan. Have you ever talked with a teen that has just finished high school? It almost makes you want to cringe when you hear them say that they will be spending thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars on school and have no idea what they want to study. When children have no sense of what they want to do with their lives they often act out of impulse, usually leading to some poor decisions. I could tell which boys were likely to succeed in the program because they knew why they wanted to get out and what they would do to make sure that they didn’t end up in a similar situation again. Your child may not know what career they want to pursue before they leave the home, but they can plot out some things while they are still with you. Can they save for a toy? Will they join a sport? Could they work to buy their first car? Could they do some job shadowing during their junior and senior year? As your child gets older, the decisions have more weight, but there is always a need for a plan.
There are a lot of well-intentioned dads that have difficulty providing structure for their children. Who can blame them? Nobody wants their child to think they are the worst parent ever. No dad signed up to be the enemy. But, if we don’t provide structure, our children will suffer. They need us to make these hard decisions, even if they don’t always want us to. You are being a Rock Solid father when you value your child’s well-being over their approval. As always, feel free to share or comment if you have any thoughts on the topic.
Stay Rock Solid, dads!