Today’s children live in a world where stress and pressure comes at them from countless sources – from peers, teachers, and coaches to the media that paints a picture of unattainable perfection, parents who want the best but sometimes push too hard, and a world that that can seem painfully harsh.
In their own homes, children can watch a war in another country in real-time. And it is difficult to tell the difference between what is real and the simulated violence in movies and electronic games.
Statistics in the United States are alarming. According to SADD, nearly three quarters of students (72%) have consumed alcohol (more than just a few sips) by the end of high school, and more than a third (37%) have done so by eighth grade. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, teenage marijuana and other drug use is on the rise for the first time in ten years. According to the National Crime Prevention Council, over 40% of all teenagers with Internet access report being bullied online.
How can we protect our children? Clearly there are no easy answers.
However, parents are not helpless in the face of these challenges. There are some things you can do to create a strong foundation for your children as they experience the pressures of their world.
One of the best places to start is to create a family vision.
Athletes and great leaders understand the power of vision. Families can also harness the power of vision.
Business executive Jack Bates and his wife created a family vision with their daughters when they were 7 and 9 years old. Sitting at the kitchen table, they each talked about what the family meant to them, what they wanted it to be and what they needed from each other. They then wrote a family vision, which they taped to the refrigerator.
Over the years, they used the vision to make decisions and to explain actions. As a family they revisited the vision regularly, updating it as the girls got older. According to Jack,
If you read our family vision, it might not sound like much to you, but it means very real things to each of us because we discussed it at length before we wrote. We remember the meaning behind the words. It provided guidance when I had to make tough decisions. And it helped the children understand the reason for these decisions. We used the vision to help determine specific household chores, allowance, and privileges. When our older daughter was in high school, she used our vision to help me see that I was lecturing her too much and not listening enough. The vision helped our younger daughter once in a very tough situation to resist peer pressure and make a good decision.
How can a vision equip your children face the demands, stress and challenges of today’s world?
Vision provides children with a strong foundation. It helps them know who they are. It gives them a base to test their decisions against.
Vision means knowing who you are, where you’re going, and what will guide your journey. It means having clear values that guide you and knowing what it looks like when you are living them. When someone is off-base, your vision can be used to hold each other accountable (both children and parents) and to get back on track.
Use these guidelines to create and live your family vision.
- Create the vision together. Listen to each other’s hopes and dreams. Create shared pictures of what it would look like if you were living your purpose and values consistently. Talk until everyone has agreed and is committed to the vision.
- Maintain the vision. As a parent, hold yourself, your spouse and your children accountable to the vision. If it looks like someone has behaved inconsistently with the vision, it is time to sit down and discuss what happened in terms of the vision. Set household rules and limits that are consistent with the vision.
- Model the vision. The adults in the house must act as role models that demonstrate the behaviors consistent with the vision.
- When you encounter tough times, revisit the vision. The vision provides a great frame of reference to have discussions without blame or finger pointing. It allows you to focus on what you need to do, rather than making people defensive.