|Friday, May 21, 2010|
The Most Important Job On Earth
by Alexander Green
My friends John and Marcy seem to have it all ... Great health, a beautiful family, a lovely home, plenty of money.
The problem? Their teenage kids are driving them completely nuts.
My wife Karen and I recently spent a weekend with them at their home in upstate New York.
"It's so exasperating," complained Marcy. "They don't study. They stay out until all hours. We never know where they are or whom they're with. Of course, it's uncool for them to answer a phone call from their parents when they're out, but they won't even text us back. It's infuriating."
"Who is supplying them with the cell phones, the cars and the money?" I asked.
"Well, who do you think?" she said, irritated just thinking about it.
I let it go at that. This conversation wasn't improving the evening and, besides, it was none of my business. But I couldn't help thinking how different things were growing up at my house.
I was one of four boys, fairly close in age. Like all boys, we acted up. Regularly. But if things started getting out of hand, my Dad would threaten to "lower the boom."
(I'm not sure any of us really knew what that meant, exactly. But from the look in his eye and the tone of his voice, it was clear that any "boom lowering" would not accrue to our advantage.)
That was when we were young, of course. But by the time you reach your teenage years, your relationship with your parents is pretty well established. And the way my brothers and I were raised, it would have been unthinkable to treat our Mom or Dad like a doormat.
Yet I have several friends who tell me they are experiencing pretty much the same thing as John and Marcy. They complain about their kids' poor grades and bad manners, their lack of respect and motivation, their general feeling of entitlement.
What I don't hear many of them saying is what role they as parents are playing in this state of affairs. Some of them might benefit from thinking a little less about fixing their kids and a little more about fixing the way they parent.
This is a touchy subject, I know. Everyone who has had a parent or a child - every living soul, in other words - is an expert on the subject. But could any job be more important?
As parents, it's our responsibility to educate our kids about the consequences of their behavior. This requires frequent communication (and sometimes punishment). Yet, according to a recent study, the average parent spends three and a half minutes per week in meaningful conversation with his or her children. No wonder so many kids are a mess.
What should parents communicate? For starters, guidance, understanding, and opinions about what is right and wrong. They need to stress the importance of education and hard work.
Most of all, parents need to communicate that their love is unconditional, but their approval is not. Kids need to understand that eventually we all sit down to a banquet of consequences.
And it's a tough world out there...
In 1940, for example, public school teachers claimed that the top seven disciplinary problems were talking out of turn, chewing gum, making noise, running in the halls, cutting in line, dress code infractions and littering. Today it is drug abuse, alcohol abuse, pregnancy, suicide, rape, robbery and assault.
We can speculate on the reasons for this - violent and sexually-charged television shows, movies and video games, millions of homes without fathers, or other factors - but there is no denying the general coarsening of the culture.
Columnist George Will recently remarked that, "Sixty years ago, parents' primary job was getting their kids to adopt the values of the culture. Today their primary job is getting them not to adopt the values of the culture."
Things really are tougher for parents now. But that only means good parenting is more important than ever. Yes, the schools will teach them reading, science, history and math (or should). But it is up to us to teach our kids about important things like work, health, money, relationships, and integrity.
Part of this, of course, is setting an example. Your kids may not hear much of what you say. But they are watching what you do like a hawk.
And while there are different approaches to parenthood, in my view there are certain core values all kids should be taught:
*Respect your elders.
*Two ears, one mouth: Listen twice as much as you talk.
*When you give your word, keep it. Always.
*Look people in the eye when you talk to them.
*Stand up for yourself.
*Be kind to animals.
*Smile, it don't cost nothing. (Bad grammar, good lesson)
*If you don't have the time to do it right, how will you find the time to do it over?
*Spend less than what you earn. Save and invest the difference.
*Always say "please" and "thank you," "yes, sir" and "no, ma'am."
*Understand that the workplace is a hierarchy, not a democracy.
*If you borrow something, return it in better condition than you got it.
*Learn to think for yourself.
*If you don't know something, look it up.
*Cigarettes don't make you look cool. They make you look stupid.
*Drugs deliver short-term highs and lifelong lows.
*Sex is great but unwanted pregnancies and STDs are not.
*When you need help, ask for it. When others need help, give it.
*Doing the right thing always has its reward.
*If you mess up, apologize.
*Anything worth having is worth working for.
*Do what you love for a living and the money will follow. (Not enough to make you rich necessarily, but enough to live an authentic life.)
*You don't need someone to complete you. Complete yourself.
*Successful people make a habit of doing the things unsuccessful people don't want to do.
*Hold the door for people - men and women alike.
*Accept responsibility for yourself.
*If you face a difficult decision, ask, "How will this make me feel about myself?"
*And never forget: Non illigitamus carbonundrum. (That's Latin for "Don't let the bastards get you down.")
This is just a partial list, of course. Eighteen years is about how long it takes to learn what we need to know to become responsible adults. After all, most of us don't start making good decisions until after we've screwed up making so many bad ones.
In the end, parents only have so much ability to guide their children's behavior. Scientists still don't know how much we're shaped by nature versus our environment - and probably never will.
But preparing our kids for adulthood is an awesome responsibility, the most important job on earth. So it behooves us - and society as a whole - to do everything in our power to do it well.
Family is the cornerstone of society, the ultimate economic and spiritual unit of every civilization. Twenty-five hundred years ago, Confucius said, "The father who does not teach his son his duties is equally guilty with the son who neglects them." (This is just as true of mothers, especially today when so many kids are growing up without fathers around.)
Parenthood is and will always be a sacred task. When our kids are grown, they will have to deal with the consequences of their choices. No parent wants to live with regrets about what he or she "should have done."
For most of us, our families are what we care about most. I know that if I felt I had failed as a father, no success in any other area could make up for it.
Yet each family is unique and no one will ever know the full reality of your situation.
Still, imperfect as we are, there is great satisfaction imprinting the best of us on our kids and doing whatever we can to give them a leg up in our competitive world, knowing that, however we fell short in one area or another, we did the best we could.
Recently in Spiritual Wealth:
Alexander Green is the Investment Director of The Oxford Club. The Oxford Club Communique, whose portfolio he directs, is ranked among the top 5 investment letters in the nation for 10-year performance by the independent Hulbert Investment Digest. Alex is the author of The New York Times bestseller "The Gone Fishin' Portfolio: Get Wise, Get Wealthy... and Get On With Your Life" and, more recently, "The Secret of Shelter Island: Money and What Matters." He has been featured on Oprah & Friends, CNBC, National Public Radio (NPR), Fox News and "The O'Reilly Factor," and has been profiled by The Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, Forbes, and Kiplinger's Personal Finance, among others. He currently lives in Charlottesville, Virginia and Winter Springs, Florida with his wife Karen and their children Hannah and David. "