When I first found out I was pregnant with a little girl, I was kind of terrified. I realize that raising boys comes with plenty of challenges as well, but something about the idea of raising a daughter in the age of sexting and twerking stopped me dead in my tracks and raised a thousand questions in my head …
“What if she gets left out by the mean girls? What if she is one of the mean girls? What am I going to say when she wants to start wearing lipstick or super-short skirts? What about when she wants to start dating? How will I protect her from the world, while still giving her the freedom to experience it?”
Raising girls is no joke. But, now that I have a baby boy, I still find myself asking questions and worrying about him just as much.
It boils down to the fact that parenting can be intimidating. There are so many ways to screw it up, and at the end of the day we all want the same thing: to raise responsible and conscientious citizens. We want them to enjoy their childhood — one that is fun and wholesome, one that preserves some of that youthful innocence. But how do we do it? How does one raise a wholesome child in the age of Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber and their media shenanigans? How can we help our little ones experience life, but still preserve the sweet simplicity of childhood a bit longer while they navigate it?
I can guarantee that I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that good kids don’t just happen. It takes thoughtful parenting, and even though my husband and I will make mistakes along the way and there’s no guarantee that our children will turn out the way we hope, we still want to try our hardest to raise wholesome, responsible, and conscientious people.
My husband and I were both blessed with wonderful parents who did a wonderful and balanced job in raising us, so we’ve looked a lot to their methods as we discuss this idea of raising Citizen Kids. Here are a few simple things we have begun to implement and/or will implement in the future:
1. Be present
One of the most important things that a parent can do for their child is to simply be present. Set down the phone, turn off the TV, and just be there for them. Listen to them as they share their hopes, dreams, fears, and even just plain old silliness. The more present and available you are during the early years, the more likely children will be to share with you later on. Be a part of the things they enjoy and get to know their friends. It is a fine balance, but you really can be an involved and active parent without being overbearing.
2. Teach by example
You can’t expect your children to become responsible and conscientious if you aren’t modeling what that looks like for them. Our children are always watching us, so be the kind of person you would want to see them emulate. If you want your child to be the kind of person who is kind to and thoughtful of other people, show them what it looks like to be a person who is kind and thoughtful. Take them to volunteer with you or find ways to donate your time and/or goods to others. If you don’t want them to sit in front of the TV or computer all day, model a more active and engaged lifestyle for them. Make sure they see you reading a book, going for a bike ride, or taking an art class — and invite them to join in as often as possible.
3. Be open
Communication is of tantamount importance when raising children. Always encourage your children to share their feelings and to be open and honest with you. Once you create a family culture of honesty surrounding the little things, they’ll feel more comfortable coming to you with the big things. Talk about challenging topics and don’t just brush things under the rug. Sometimes being a good parent and raising good kids means talking about the hard stuff.
4. Encourage their interests
Kids that are engaged in activities that interest them are less likely to have a ton of free time for getting into trouble. I’m not saying that children need to participate in a non-stop parade of extracurriculars, but encouraging children to explore their interests and pursue them is a great way to give them something constructive to do. When I was a kid I enjoyed singing and I remember my parents encouraging me to sing at church and in high school. My dad even joined the church choir with me to be involved in something I enjoyed. It’s a great memory I have of spending quality time with him. So, in addition to simply encouraging their interests, we hope to be as involved with their interests as we can. If our children are into art, we’ll take them to museums and maybe even take a watercolor class alongside them. If they’re into dance, we’ll go to performances — and you can bet we’ll be at all those recitals. These are the things that can leave a lasting impression on children; I know, because it did for me.
5. Limit media exposure
Obviously we don’t intend to raise our children to be hermits and shield them from society, but we would also like to limit their time spent utilizing media. Watching TV and surfing the web are fine in moderation, but the less time they spend being exposed to the likes of Cyrus and Bieber (or whoever is “cool” when they’re old enough to care), the more time they’ll have for doing “kid things” like riding bikes and building tree houses and playing kickball.
Here’s to raising wonderful little citizens for the future generation!