1. Always question authority. It’s one of the most important and valuable things I learned in college. Questioning authority does not mean being disrespectful. It means holding elected officials, experts, doctors, lawyers and teachers accountable. A person of authority in a child’s life – like a teacher or a doctor – sometimes seems to have an aura of “untouchable” about them. Children should be encouraged to ask questions and insist on answers. And yes, questioning authority does include questioning our parenting. We all have bad days and need to be reminded that we are not an absolute ruler of our children, but rather someone who helps them to be the best they can be.
2. Be honest and accountable. Those two things go together like peanut butter and jelly. Kids have to be honest with themselves to be accountable. While questioning authority holds others accountable, it’s also important to do the same with ourselves. Children need to learn to own their decisions, mistakes and triumphs – from beginning to end.
3. Be comfortable outside your comfort zone. Everyone loves to stay in their comfort zone; it’s warm and cozy and we just never want to leave. But, here’s the thing – if our kids never try anything new, never deliver an unpleasant message to anyone, have never been there for a friend even though it made them uncomfortable, then they are missing out. They are missing out on new experiences, on personal growth and on inspiring others to do the same.
4. You win some, you lose some. It’s important to know what it feels like to lose. Guess what – most people don’t win all the time, they are not even in the Top 10. If a child has never known what it feels like to disappear in the masses, he or she will not be able to feel the thrill of winning. Getting a trophy or a ribbon every time does not only diminish the joy of placing first when it’s our kids’ turn, it also lessens the accomplishment of the people who actually won. This is not only true for winning and losing – it’s valid in every part of our lives: if we don’t experience the lows, we won’t know what a high actually feels like.
5. Not everything on the Internet is true. (The Internet is a big thing in parenting. And a hard thing. And almost impossible to control as kids get older. I try to use the common sense approach – so far, so good.) There are billions of people using the Internet, each and every one with their own opinions and tastes. Sometimes people make shit up, sometimes they make fun of other people and sometimes they even do illegal things. The point is that children should approach the Internet like they should everything else in life – ask if it makes sense. If someone in their school would tell them face to face what they just read online, would they believe it? If one of their friends would ask them to do what they just saw somebody do on YouTube, would they do it?
6. Sometimes you screw up and that’s OK. Yes, exactly that. Nobody can bring their A game all the time and sometimes we screw things up. Sometimes children get a bad grade and sometimes they don’t ask the lonely kid to join the game and sometimes they click on that link even though they have a feeling it’s a virus. There is always another day. Tell them they can do better next time, encourage them to just move on and not beat themselves up – not everything is a big deal.
7. Don’t be a jerk. Being respectful and kind is essential and this one should start at a very young age. Kids need to know that they can’t assume they know what’s going on inside anyone’s head. They don’t know another person’s story, whether they are just having a bad day or their grandma just died. Yes, they will encounter people who are jerks to them – but they should still give them the benefit of the doubt; they can always just walk away, there is no reason to be a jerk themselves.
8. Have a slice of humble pie. Humble pie tastes bitter and sweet at the same time. It’s not a particularly good taste and doesn’t need to be on the menu all the time, but it’s important for children to learn a lesson or two in humility. They should never assume that they are “too good” for certain jobs or better than other people. Starting at the bottom and not having everything fall into their lap can be a lifesaver later in life. Clearing all of life’s obstacles out of their way because you “want the kids to have it easier than you had it” can break their back later in life.
9. Sometimes you just have to tough it out. A little cut on the finger? A ball took your kid’s breath away while playing soccer? The girl with the pony tails was mean to your child? We don’t always have to abort mission for every little incident. It’s tempting to just call it a day and go home, but there is value in seeing something through to the end and children can learn a great deal about what they are capable of by doing so.
10. Don’t get knocked up or knock anybody up until you’re old enough to take on the responsibility. Our children will start having sex sooner or later. I trust my children to decide when they’re ready. It’s essential that they are responsible and while I think they can handle the responsibility of using protection, I don’t think they will be able to handle the responsibility of having kids for a while. And I’m not willing to look after their kids, that’ll be their job.