Sunday, August 26, 2012

Practicality: Teaching Your Child to Think for Themselves

Nothing bothers me more than a herd mentality. We see it continually through this political season. Society, or the powers that be in the media, have broken us down into categories and decided that if you belong to one group or the other, how you should and should not vote. If you vote against type, using your own mind and thought process you are then an ethnicity, gender or race traitor. Funny didn't think I gave up my ability to analyze, deduce and process information simply because I have a vagina. Wow, feminism has come such a long way.....NOT. Also not sure who decided to define womanhood, religion and skincolor simply in terms of what is deemed politically correct. Thank you but no. I will define myself. I don't need the rubber stamp of strangers to tell me who I am. I never did. I feel sorry for those that do.

OK, so I am set, but how do I get my children to think for themselves and not give into the herd mentality. Some actually used to call this peer pressure. It is not an easy task to keep your children safe from the adolescent throngs. This one gives parents nightmares. 

For some people individuality comes naturally. When CM1 was in a "mommy and me group," the other parents used to tease that he marched to the beat of his own drummer. It was funny then. We had no idea about his ASD. Looking back though, if you understand the isolation of autism you know in the long run not such a hahahah moment.

But this ability that CM1 possessed, to be content on his own, is a strength that we later used to help him stand up to peer pressure. From early on we taught CM1 (OK both boys in fact) right from wrong and set boundaries. We made certain that he understood respect and how to get along in society. We did not condone youthful hi-jinx, nor think of teen sex, drinking and smoking as rights of passage. Being a methodical young man, we taught him the downfalls of all these activities. Wanting to live a long life, CM1 took to heart the medical issues surrounding all forms of drug abuse. Wanting to have a real relationship and friendship with a significant other, he did not ever contemplate "hooking up."

Yes, I would like my son to have a girlfriend. Someone who cares for him and is a helpmate. I had to learn, this aspect of his life I cannot do for him, it is something he does need to do for himself. (Yes I think Ryan Lochte's mother is gross.) In time, I hope he will garner the skills necessary to find someone who will be an addition to his soul. He has accomplished everything he set out to do, and one day I know he will accomplish this as well. It's funny because anyone who meets CM1, will tell you, that he is so charming and smart, but that the one thing he needs is a girlfriend. Yes, I suppose this will be another aspect of peer pressure. But something tells me that CM1 when he is ready will find someone who thinks very similar to himself.

When dealing with CM2 we taught him the same lessons. We taught him the consequences of his actions early on and that people need to accept you for who you are, not for what they want you to be. He learned that he can be self-reliant and that he does not have to give in to the popular mythology.  Yes he knew he was not a popular kid in school, and yes it bothered him. But no he did not try to change to please anyone else. Yes there are moments that he says he will never have friends now in college. This is a terribly hard age and one you need to keep a watch on.

We explain to him that he will have friends. Friends that think like him. He just needs to look for them. So we try to have him join gamer clubs at school or the computer science club. People with similar interests and similar outlooks are the way to go. We had tried to get him involved with our Temple when we belonged. We had him join clubs in high school and middle school as well. With him, as with CM1, I know one day something will click. He will find a friend or two. But in truth he needs to understand himself a little bit more too.

I think in the long run the boys are very independent. They understand rights and wrongs and the consequences of actions. Luckily while they would like friends, they are not desperate, nor will they compromise their integrity. Here is some of what we did to get them this far:

1. Set boundaries early on for your children. This includes adhering to bedtime and behavior rules. The earlier you set rules and boundaries, the easier it will be for your children to assimilate the rules and boundaries for smoking, drinking, and "hooking up."
2. Teach right from wrong and consequences of actions. This also includes a discussion on lieing, hard work and earning your way in life.
3. Gently teach them about smoking and drinking. Most schools teach this beginning in elementary school. You don't have to wait for the school. Do it as soon as they see someone smoking. CM2's first question was when he was two-years-old. Of course, their paternal-grandmother died from smoking related cancer so it was something very openly discussed in our house too. I never minced words, although I made the discussion age appropriate.
4. Make sure that if they ever really mess up, they know that you will love them no matter what. That you will always have their back and that you will help them through every step if the way. But as they age, it is important to point out, that as teens, society will take a dim view of illegal activities and in some cases view them as adults with adult consequences. Society truly has no patience for out of control 6 foot tall, 200 pound people. (No matter what some teens think.)

What to do with your child and how to distract them from bad influences? Here is some of what we did:

1. Hebrew school (Sunday school works for Christian of course) with a heavy dose of ethics and morals.
2. Charity groups: some religious based, some secular based. Let them see how lucky they are in their lives. Teach them to give back.
3. Youth groups. Usually religious institutions have youth groups. They provide mentors, usually ministers or rabbis who the child can talk to. Make sure you really like this person. Make sure they share the same values as you do. Teens do need someone else besides their parents to confide in. Make sure it is someone you pick for them to talk too, instead of your child picking the school drug dealer. In other words, do this way before there is any problem, so that there won't be a problem.
4. After school activities. Find something your child likes or excels in. Push them to keep going. If they never settle on something, keep looking. We continued to look for both boys through high school. CM2 settled on film and acting. CM1 settled on politics and human rights.
5. Try to keep them off of social media as long as possible. Bullying is rampant on line and not the healthiest atmosphere for developing individuals. If they desire to go on line HERE, HERE, HERE,  for how to keep them safe.

I can't say that these actions will lend itself to perfection. Of course we had glitches along the way. But CM1 holds his own in college with other students and professors. He disagrees with them and calls them out. They may not like it very much, but he doesn't back down. He is his own man. In his words, "I have my morals and ethics and I won't compromise them for anyone or anything."

CM2 is his own person too..I know because he always argues with me. At first he told me he was in his rebellious stage and that's why he was such a stinker. But then he announced that after some more research he was more in his independence stage. He wasn't rebellious because he didn't have tattoos and piercings. He was just at that stage in life that he needed to psychologically separate from his parents. OK I thought...he can explore other ideas, as long as he doesn't reject the education concerning dangerous and unhealthy activities. Which it seems so far, so good...but watching truly is never done.....

So in the end, teaching them to be their own person, think for themselves and reject peer pressure is a lifelong challenge when raising children. Now the interesting aspect that noone ever thinks about too, is that they will also think for themselves and challenge your perspectives and perceptions. Fine with me....its what makes life interesting afterall.

Until next time,