Let's Make Better Adults

By Scott Schimmel

My parents encouraged me to take risks. They gave me responsibilities at a young age and held me accountable. They helped point out my talents and supported my interests. They gave me opportunities to travel, to see the world, and provided amazing experiences to shape my view of life. I grew up confident that I could accomplish a lot, be successful, and have a home base of support when life got hard.

Even with all of that they did, I needed more. 

For the past few years in working with teenagers we’ve recognized a consistent theme: growing up (well) is hard to do. 

It’s especially hard when the people in your life are at odds with you becoming healthy and independent. Unfortunately, we have witnessed the stories of many dysfunctional families that are harmful to the children. Many kids have parents who haven’t grown up themselves, and aren’t providing good support, appropriate boundaries, aren’t identifying the talents of their kids, don’t know how to demonstrate conflict resolution or healthy relationships, 

But it’s also hard for kids to grow up well even when their families are as healthy as can be. So, we’re capturing a few best practices from healthy families we interact with and simple, common sense ideas from the best parents around for you to steal from for your family:

BUILD A TRIBE FOR THEM Do your kids have other adults besides their parents they can talk to? More importantly, have you as their parents actually curated and arranged for your children to build relationships with other adults besides you who are people of character? It might be as simple as setting up social environments where your kids and your friends can interact in conversation. Merely having adults that your kids know is not enough- they must have a history of conversations and shared experiences. 

TELL YOUR FAMILY STORY Do you know your family story? Have you taken the time to process through the narrative thread of your family stories and told them to your kids, over and over, so that they understand who they are and where they come from? Good research says that kids do better through the bumps and bruises of life if they know the narrative of their family. 

EMPOWER & AUTHORIZE Empowering is about giving someone what the need to be effective. Your kids need to learn from you by experience (not by lecture) how to do important things like resolving conflict with a friend, set a goal and accomplish it, tell appropriate jokes, build healthy friendships and more. Authorizing is about giving someone the permission to exercise their abilities. You can authorize your kids to take responsibility, making it clear to them that it’s up to them to solve a problem. 

PURSUE WITH NON-ANXIOUS CURIOSITY Your kids can literally feel your anxiety. They instantly shut down when they feel like you’re needy and clingy. As much as you want to know and understand them, pressuring someone to open up to you is…annoying. So, try hard to not be annoying. Non-anxious curiosity looks like consistent question-asking, but without any expectation of a reasonable, clear response. The more consistent you are in asking sincerely and without anxiety, the more volume of response you will get. 

ASK BETTER QUESTIONS Your kids do not like dumb questions. They will not respond well when you ask them: ‘How was your day today?’, or ‘Why does your face look mad?’. Ask them better, more thoughtful and curious questions. Be patient, persistent, and better. 

TELL BETTER STORIES Many parents choose not to share with their kids the struggles they went through early on in life. Many parents also choose not to share with their kids their current struggles, stress, and worry. They want to protect their kids from feeling burdened. However, that’s not helpful for them. They need to learn from you that you are a real person who struggled and struggles and their wisdom will be borrowed from your mistakes. Also, if you’re freaking out about something, tell them why. They already feel it. 

FIGURE YOUR S*#% OUT Saving the most important for the end, this is extremely critical if you want to support and raise healthy humans. You will only be able to replicate what you yourself have learned. You will not raise up someone to be healthier than you. Your kids need you to demonstrate what health looks like. If you have unresolved anger and conflict with someone- learn how to deal with it and reconcile. If you have grief you haven’t dealt with; deal with it. If you haven’t yet figured out who you are, what makes you happy, and how to have authentic friendships with people; well, do it. The single most helpful thing you can do for your kids is to get healthy yourself. 

What would you add to this list? What are healthy practices your family does or you see other families do? Comment below.