“Suzanne Gelb Image”

”Tools for Independence, How to Guide Children?”

Dear Dr. Gelb:

My 15-year-old is clueless what he wants do be when he grows up. At his school they talk about this a bit, asking the kids what they think they will study in college. My son plays sports and did drama for a while but no longer wants to act. How do I guide him into things that can give him life direction so that when he grows up he will be able to make a living and not be dependent on his father and me, or the state?

Seeking Direction

Dear Direction:

I believe that it is so important to introduce children at a young age to the humanities and sciences and to encourage their interest and involvement in these areas (e.g., literature, history, math, engineering, medical fields, health sciences, law). There is nothing wrong with engaging in areas such as sports, music or painting, for example, but let’s face it, only a few make it to fame in a field such as sports. Therefore it is important to expose children to avenues of learning, which could develop into careers from which they can earn a living.

Equally important is that parents do not pick their children’s career. Rather, they merely expose them to it. As one adult said, “My parents shoved down my throat that they wanted me to be a lawyer when I grew up. So I rebelled and didn’t even go to college.” Similarly, it would be counterproductive for a parent to say to a child, “you are going to become a doctor.” Instead, the parent might say, “I am going to expose you to numerous fields from which you could earn a living, but you choose one. Here are some documentaries that I want you to watch and see what appeals to you.” Children have a tendency to be attracted to some of these sciences if they are exposed to them and if they then become involved (e.g., one high school student was inspired to become a botanist as a result of field trips he took with his class to green houses. He become fascinated and intrigued about how things grow and fortunately his parents encouraged this curiosity and his desire to explore this area of science).

Role models are another powerful influence over children and their choices. Parents, teachers, and neighbors for example should exemplify by their lifestyle, positive options that children can emulate. The power of association should not be underestimated.

Round table family discussions should also be held to address how the children are going to survive in the world when they grow up. Parents must be aware of their children’s interests and curiosities and positively direct their focus by, for example, what they talk about at the round table. Even discussions about planning family vacations can be centered on nurturing children’s interests and curiosities.

Children must be given responsibilities at home (e.g., washing dishes, mowing the lawn) so that they can learn important life skills such as being accountable, practicing self-discipline, and being a team player. They must learn to share the family responsibilities without expecting something back in return (e.g., payment, a reward). One benefit of this type of responsibility is exemplified in a statement made by a 16-year-old — “I want to become independent, I want to get out on my own and be free of depending on Mom and Dad at home.” As long as children are required to responsibly participate as part of the family, they are likely to be inspired to want to become independent.

One 16-year-old’s parents were lax with discipline and didn’t require that their son contribute to the household, until it got to the point that they had to have a serious discussion with him about the need for him to plan for the future and earnestly consider how to become more independent and responsible “When Dad and Mom are gone,” said the mother to her son, “we are not going to leave you a fortune. We have allowed your life to be very easy and as far as I’m concerned you have been spoiled. We may not be able to leave you the family business.”

So many children nowadays are given little or no responsibility for contributing to the household and family life and if they do happen to extend themselves (e.g., wash dishes), they usually expect some favor in return. Many have not been coached or prepared for adulthood (e.g., there are no round table discussions to address questions such as “what are you going to do when you leave home?; how are you going to support your family if you choose to have one?”). Nowadays it is typical for many children to take the easy way out of education. They put minimal effort into their studies, graduate from high school with poor academic skills and are ill-equipped to meet the challenges of our competitive world.

So, on this eve of July 4 when 227 years ago our great country gained its independence, it is with great sadness that I note the misdirected youth in our society and their many dependencies, be they gangs, drugs, alcohol or even welfare. I urge all parents and caregivers to apply the needed firm, fair, consistent discipline and unconditional love to equip our youth to develop into self-respecting adults and who can independently rely on their own skills and resources to contribute to our world.

Happy Birthday America.