You’re going to look across the kitchen table one day when your child is well on their way to adulthood — perhaps when they’re 12 or 13 — and you’re going to think to yourself: Wow, what an amazing child!
Perhaps your thought will be triggered by something your child recently did. Maybe they were remarkably kind to someone, accomplished something difficult, or created something beautiful. Or perhaps this realization will wash over you in a more general but profound fashion. “My child is an extraordinary human being!” you’ll think to yourself.
It’s what we parents fervently hope for: a thriving child.
Afflictions and Traps
The thing is, it can be hard to see our way there. There are so many afflictions and traps waiting for our children.
We can easily imagine how — instead of being proud of our child when they’re 15 — we could end up lamenting how their lives have been swallowed up by social media or depression. They could end up hanging out with the wrong set and abusing drugs or alcohol. Or maybe they won’t be interested in anything; they’ll just be going through the motions.
All these are valid fears. We all know plenty of parents dealing with these kinds of issues with their teenage children. Their children are not yet thriving. And we need to give these parents a break: We parents don’t have control over who our children become.
And yet, over the years, I’ve noticed differences among parents that I believe explain some of the differences in how kids are doing in their teen years. The differences I observe have more to do with how parents play offense than how they play defense. Let me explain.
How Parents Play Offense
Parents of thriving kids are more likely to have created a family culture that immerses their children in the ideas, values, and habits they want their children to absorb. This takes heart and effort. For example:
- Parents play offense by leading their children to develop an identity as a reader by reading to their children, reading themselves, and talking about books often.
- Parents play offense by instilling an ethic of community service and participation by inviting their children into their own active community life.
- Parents play offense by helping their children discover their own passions by exposing them to lots of different activities, noticing what interests their child, and feeding them more of what inspires them.
None of this means that challenges aren’t going to crop up. All children and parents meet bumps in the road.
But when parents have been playing robust offense, the challenges are more easily surmountable. For example, if a parent has drawn their child into a robust community life, it’s easier to rescue that child from the social media abyss. More than most children, that child has experienced the pleasure and satisfaction of interacting with people in person. The child may experience the same temptation to spend way too much time on social media that other kids experience, but, because of their life experience, they’re more likely to overcome that temptation.
I believe the same dynamic occurs with respect to drugs and alcohol abuse. Any child can be tempted and may end up flirting with danger, but the children of parents who have worked hard to instill mindsets and habits that offer a compelling alternative to substance abuse are more likely to resist temptation and make better choices.
It’s worth repeating: There is no guaranteed path to ensure that your child thrives. Parents don’t have that much power. But you do have the power and opportunity to set their children up for success by playing offense — by inviting their children into a world filled with noble and worthy ideals and activities.
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