Parents as Role Models

Teenagers have an innate way of watching closely and copying, almost subconsciously, what their parents do, how they behave, speak, interact with each other and the world around them… even though at times it seems they want nothing to do with us or be anything like us. And teenagers do this with great precision, which means that as parents, we must be mindful that what we do and say is an example to our young people about how the world is and how to live within it. This is not meant to put added pressure on parents, because parenting is a tricky enough business in the world today. But it does highlight the fact that, like it or not, we are role models for our children, hence the phrase ‘the apple never falls far from the tree’. It’s a good idea to be reminded of this occasionally and do a quick check in. It’s an interesting exercise to think about the top few things that you are currently challenged by with respect to your teenagers and see if they are in fact things you do innately. This does require some honesty and the willingness to accept what might be a bit uncomfortable. But life as a parent is all about learning, changing and trying new and different things … no one has it down pat. It is an evolving skill. We all have times of being ahead of the game and other times when we feel we are so far behind and just plain tired. 

Do you use manners and are you friendly to people you don’t know — people who serve you at the store or in a coffee shop? Are you constantly talking loudly and over other people? It’s a little confronting but if you really listen to your teenagers you will often hear your own tone of voice, favourite expressions and body language. Teenagers soon learn about alcohol by hearing and seeing how you manage social situations — can you go to a social event or get through a Friday night without alcohol? If a teenage girl sees her mother dressing in a certain way, or her father treating the women in his life poorly, then she has a greater chance of expecting similar things at some stage in her life, unless she is taught and convinced of a better way. If teenagers see parents who are constantly online, who can never have a proper conversation without checking their phone, who cannot sit through a sports game without texting or a dinner out without posting an update, then what hope do they have to learn how to balance real life and life online? During a recent Spirituality Day, our facilitator asked girls to close their eyes and put their head down, but then raise their hands if one of their parents spends more time online then they do. The results were confronting.

If parents swear forcefully when they are frustrated or when driving, your teenager is simply getting ready to repeat this. If girls constantly hear parents commenting on their own appearance or criticising others’ appearances, then how can they grow up with a positive self-image and an acceptance of inner beauty? If parents lie to the school about a daughter being sick, or make up excuses for non-attendance, or constantly blame teachers for poor results, then that is what our girls will learn to do. Show that you value school and learning but to a level that is enjoyable, not filled with insurmountable pressure to meet high expectations. You might not necessarily feel optimistic about the state of the world at the moment, but be cautious that you don’t add to young people’s stress. It’s the world they have to grow up in, manage, and learn to thrive and build a life in.

The good news in all this is that positive traits are also copied. Using humour to lighten situations, talking about and using prayer to seek comfort in difficult times, admitting mistakes and offering apologies, healthy eating and regular exercise, building and maintaining real life friendships, catching up in person with friends, making time to visit family, volunteering for school events, will all be adopted by teenagers, if not immediately but as they grow and mature. It’s worth checking in on ourselves and what we do as parents, every now and then, and deciding whether we want these behaviours imitated or not. Our teenagers tend to do what we do, not what we tell them to do in the long run.
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