Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What to teach your children

My last post got me to thinking about what the most important ideals or habits parents instill in their children. Is it more important to teach them to pick up after themselves or to appreciate art? Do they need to be good readers or good listeners? Is oral hygiene more or less important than learning how to fix a flat tire?

There are a lot of things parents teach their children - some we teach explicitly (like how to fold a towel, because if you don't teach that then your children grow up to be like my husband and fold them into squares that don't fit in a linen closet) - and there's a lot that we teach through modeling (usually behaviors & communication, although that can be taught explicitly as well).

If I had to boil it down to a top 10 list, there's a lot of important things that would get cut... BUT since I enjoy making lists and because I have some time to kill, here's what I consider the TOP TEN things parents should teach their children.

1. Love to read... parents need to instill a love of reading into their children. Even if that parent hates reading. Why? Because reading is linked to improved academic performance as well as a host of other benefits. Children who can read well will do well in school, they improve their vocabularies, they become more logical thinkers, they have an easier time mastering language, they cure cancer and AIDS and bring world peace.

Ok, so that last one may have been a slight exaggeration. But I will bet you that the person or people who DO end up curing cancer and AIDS or who bring about world peace WILL BE fluent readers. So it's only slightly hyperbolic.

2. Be self sufficient... Alright, I admit that this one is broad and can encompass a lot. What I mean is that kids need to be able to balance a checkbook, clean a toilet, do laundry, and cook something other than microwave dinners. You can add change a tire into this one if you'd like, but I have AAA and while I know *how* to change a tire, it is not a skill that trumps cooking. Not being able to change a tire isn't going to kill me (although I may be extremely inconvenienced), a lifetime of snack foods and HungryMan meals will.

Which brings me to...

3. Healthy eating habits... I certainly don't expect any parent to withhold treats from their children. That's just crazy. But parents do need to expose their children to a variety of foods - especially fruits and vegetables - and parents need to explicitly teach their children what the word "moderation" means. I've seen WAY too many teenagers show up for 1st period with a Monster and Hot Cheetos only to see them out at lunch with a sugary sports drink and another bag of Hot Cheetos. Hot Cheetos are not the devil, but they're not a food group. 90% of the kids I see eat horrific things at lunch are overweight. It's not a coincidence.

There is a time and a place for junk food. That time is not every day. And for heaven's sake that place IS NOT SCHOOL. Your brain is supposed to be working during the school day and yet students feed it crap and wonder why they didn't do so well on their test. Gah!

4. If you can't say anything nice... I was going to put "be nice" but that's just unrealistic. Some people are just not nice people - but they can fake it! Really, kids just need to learn appropriate filters. They can say some things in front of their friends or peers that are not appropriate in the classroom, or at Thanksgiving dinner. If they learn it as children and teenagers, then they can apply it in the workplace.  There are some things you just should NOT say in front of your boss. There are some conversations that are best left out of the office... I'm guilty of this sometimes myself - no one is perfect at it - but if you can teach your kids to think before they speak, they'll be one up on everyone else who tells everyone at work about how drunk and stupid they got last night at the bar.

5. It's ok to be gay. Or straight. Or in theater. Or in mathletes... Athletes have value. Valedictorians have value. Homosexuals have value. Heterosexuals have value. Artists have value. Engineers have value. Gamers have value. Bookworms have value. People with disabilities have value. Homeless people have value. I could go on. No one is more deserving of rights than anyone else. My rights do not trump the rights of the homeless person sleeping on the library grass down the block...

And for goodness sake, corporations are not people.

6. Brush your teeth!... Maybe it's just because we took the kids to the dentist. Or maybe it's because the last time we were at the play-place at the mall 99% of the 10 & under crowd had visible fillings and crowns - but oh mylanta! Brush your d@mn teeth! Twice a day! With toothpaste! Flossing is good, and I know all dentists will recommend daily flossing, but as I am not a dentist nor am I a regular flosser, I'm just going to advocate for twice daily brushing. Hopefully P & G will get into the flossing habit as well, I'll try. But I will sure as hell make sure they brush every morning and every night. Anything less is just plain GROSS.

7. Teach them about their bodies.. It's called a penis. And the other one is a vagina. Use nicknames if you must, but teach them the real names for things as well. Teach your daughters what menstruation really means, teach her about ovulation, and cervical mucous, and how to tell when you're fertile. Teach her how to give herself a monthly breast exam (or make sure her Ped teaches her). Teach your sons about related boy-stuff. Teach them about condoms, and STDs, and birth control pills. Answer their questions. If you want, tell them sex is for marriage - but don't skimp out on real and genuine sex education just because you want them to wait. Married people need to know this stuff too.

8. VOTE... Because it's your civic duty and if you don't vote then you have to right to complain. Also? Teach your kids to respect jury duty. Yeah, it can suck - but it's an important part of our judicial process.

9. Disagree civilly... This one is HARD. I mean, few of these are really easy. But this is arguably the most difficult, in part because we have such a hard time with it ourselves. It's so much easier to degrade and deride - especially when we argue against things that are (birthers anyone?). But when we get too heated - regardless of how right we are - things rarely end well. Umpires get verbally abused, baseball fans are beaten to the brink of death, people are called Nazis and their likeness is burned in effigy, hate mail is sent and received, Congress does jack-s**t for 4 years, etc.

And while we teach this lesson to our kids - we'll make mistakes. We will mess up. We will be WRONG. And so...

10. Admit fault... Our kids need to know when to say "mea culpa". And they need to learn this from us. It's hard to admit to your toddler (or teenager I'd wager) that you screwed up. You want to protect that facade of infallibility because you believe that it's the source of your authority - your parental power node. Only it's not. In part because your kids aren't stupid - they'll know what you mess up. And the most powerful lesson you can teach them about personal responsibility and leadership is to say "my bad" and then fix it if you can.

**edited to add: I forgot manners! How could I?! Manners are so, so important. But what do I replace? Voting? Teeth brushing? Maybe manners fits in to the "if you can't say anything nice category. What do you think blog world?


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