Building Character in Tweens and Teens
We all want to raise our children to become successful, caring adults. We hope they will grow to become the kind of people who will do the right thing – even when no one is looking. We want them to have the strength of character that will lead them to make the right choices.
There are many layers in our efforts to raise our children to be fine people. Certainly, we teach them our values. We might join a spiritual or religious community to reinforce messages of a shared morality. We might encourage them to volunteer in our communities.
Key Strategies to Shape Character
But there are two strategies that may have the greatest impact in shaping young people’s character.
1) Start from Strengths
First, we should catch our children doing the right thing and reinforce the goodness that already resides deeply within them. As parents, you have long known all that is good and right in your children from early on. Every person possesses a different set of strengths. We all have within us traits worthy of notice. Generosity. A sense of fairness. The desire to look out for and protect others. A healthy stubbornness that insists on what is fair.
When we “catch” teens being their best selves, we reinforce that these strengths please us. And our children want to please us more than anything. Being seen as they deserve to be seen is deeply protective for young people. Noticing what is already right in our children also positions us to guide them to better develop traits not yet visible. This way, we start our feedback through a strength-based lens rather than complaining about what they lack. “You are always so fair, I need you to consider how also to be _________.”
2) Role Model
The second critical thing we do as parents is model what it means to be good people. Good, not perfect. People who work hard to do the right thing, even when, and perhaps especially when, it’s not easy. In fact, the best role models are not without fault, they are those who work hard to improve themselves.
You don’t schedule special time to be a role model. It’s more of a 24-7 thing. Ask yourself, “Am I the kind of person I would want to see as the reflection in my child’s eyes?” This is a reminder that you are being watched. But it is also a reminder that you don’t have to be perfect. Good people are not molded from plastic. They are living and breathing creatures that exist in a challenging world. They are open about their efforts and trials. They look to others for guidance, especially when things are tough. They give to others and when needed they receive from others. They take care of themselves.
Commit to Self-Care
You must resolve to care for yourself with the same commitment with which you care for family. One of the biggest problems with modern parenting is that we can be so child-focused we place ourselves and our own needs on the back burner. We feel guilty when we take moments to invest in our own well-being, or worse, forget self-care altogether. Yet, we know that our children and teens care deeply about our well-being and are most secure when they know we are okay.
Taking care of yourself is not a selfish act at all, it is a strategic act of effective parenting.
Raising an Adult
We must remember that even as we look at the 5, 10, or 15-year-olds in front of us, we parent with the intention of raising them to be successful 35, 40, and 50-year-olds with a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives.
We are the 35, 40, and 50-year-olds who they see as they imagine adulthood. When we do the right thing for others and ourselves, all while enjoying our lives, we show them what adulthood should look like.