No doubt about it, kids are influenced by their environment. That’s why it’s important to know the answers to questions such as: Who are your kids’ friends? What television programs do they watch? What video games do they play? What is the environment inside the homes of the friends they visit?
However, it is also important for parents to know how their personal behavior influences the mindset of their children. Unfortunately, sometimes parents, while being diligent in protecting their kids from exposure to harmful outside elements, can tend to overlook, ignore or excuse their own influential conduct or bad habits. Whether intentional or not, lessons are taught by example and kids can be a difficult, but extremely attentive audience. Because of this, every so often, parents should closely and honestly examine their personal and parenting behaviors. Here are five questions to ask that may help in that personal assessment:
1) Have you ever used “Do as I say and not what I do” in response to your child’s challenging questions?
This may put an end to the discussion, but the hypocrisy is not lost on the kids. While younger kids may find the double standards to be confusing, teenagers may take it a little more personally. Don’t be surprised if you lose ground with your teens in the respect category if you use this reasoning too often.
*Irene, who is in her late fifties, describes her life long relationship with her mother as “fair.” However, the one thing that will always tarnish the relationship for Irene is her mother’s hypocrisy.
“When we were growing up, my mother had zero tolerance for lying and we were punished big time. But the thing that always bothered me is that my mother lied all the time. She lied about her age, she lied to get out of stuff she didn’t want to do, she lied to make her stories more interesting. She even told us to lie when she was dodging phone calls – ‘Tell him I’m not here.’ Maybe she didn’t think those lies were a big deal, but they were to me. It made me question her authority in a way. I felt like ‘Who is she to tell me what’s right and what’s wrong?’”
2) Are you highly critical of others, but take great offense when your own judgment is challenged?
While it may seem natural to offer unsolicited opinions or become defensive when “attacked,” kids may interpret this behavior with a different perspective. They may feel as if their parents don’t value their feelings and shut them out. In these instances, children may find it difficult to trust parents who seem extremely judgmental and inept at listening to the opinions of others.
3) Do you blame outside influences for “corrupting” your kids, while ignoring your part in their exposure to unhealthy or destructive elements?
Parents who wonder about the influence for their child’s unacceptable behavior may be quick to blame friends and relatives, while disregarding their own home environment. For instance, the influence of video games and television shows are real. Yet parents often facilitate a child’s exposure by purchasing the violent video games and allowing the child access to inappropriate shows.
4) Do you qualify your unacceptable behavior?
Qualifying or making excuses does not suddenly make wrong or inappropriate behavior right, even when the offender is an adult. If parents qualify their conduct, even if the kids never vocalize their concerns, they have still learned this lesson from your deeds: As long as you can make up an excuse, then you can also excuse the behavior itself.
5) Do you expect change in your children’s conduct, but fail to acknowledge your own need to change?
Correcting your child’s behavior is a big part of a parent’s job and the resulting changes that the child exhibits is a sign of successful intervention. Unfortunately, we don’t “parent” ourselves as well as we do our children. Perhaps if parents can acknowledge and enact changes in their own unhealthy conduct, even if it means counseling, they can help their children develop and maintain better life choices.
*Millie often used emotional blackmail, manipulation and coercion in order to get her two kids to do what she wanted. In turn, they incorporated all of these unhealthy behaviors into their personal lives. Now as adults, her children have difficulty keeping healthy relationships with friends, employers, Millie and other family members.
The adult siblings have both acknowledged Millie was their biggest influence and they have since come to learn that Millie’s methods were dysfunctional. Nonetheless, Millie takes no responsibility for their conduct which she openly criticizes. Fortunately, one of the adult children has sought counseling in order to change her dysfunctional mindset and offer a healthier home environment for her young child.