A savvy dad has many, many jobs. These jobs (e.g., protecting your kids from harm, teaching them about money, allowing them to fail in controlled environments) are all part of a larger, over-arching plan to build a foundation of stability underneath your child. This foundation will allow her to grow into a stable, healthy adult who values herself and makes value-based decisions.Teaching your child to make the best decisions for him or herself is, obviously, not as simple as teaching them to tie their shoes. It's a life-long lesson, one that begins when the child can speak and doesn't end even when she's out the door and headed off for college. It requires that your family have a strong moral pcenter, and that you as a parent have continuously set good examples and have held your children up to high moral standards. Many parents, however, face a crucial problem when trying to impart good decision-making skills on their children. Rather than teach them how to make good decisions, these parents simply tell their children which decisions to make. This is somewhat equivalent to trying to teach your child how to do math by solving all the problems for her. Instead of teaching her how to avoid bad decisions and make good ones in general, they are teaching her which good decisions to make in specific. The problem with this theory is there's no way for any parents to cover every possible choice that children, teenagers and future adults may be faced with. Even if the child follows every good decision she's been taught to the letter, what will she do when she comes upon a decision to which her parents haven't told her how to react? The skills to make good decisions have to be ingrained at a young age. A study by Students Against Drunk Driving and Liberty Mutual showed that a parent's influence over their child's decision-making abilities sharply decreases as they age; by the time they hit their teenage years, your influence is virtually non-existent. Kids, as well, are under more and more pressure to make bad decisions by their peers at younger ages. The same study showed that among 1,800 elementary and high school students across the nation:
- one in four sixth graders was sexually active
- drug use increases significantly between eighth and ninth grade, and
- by 12th grade, more than three in four teens are drinking and sexually active and more than half report using drugs.
- Give them the information they need - People make decisions based on information. We choose to take part in activities when we've found out what they are and what their possible effects on us could be. If we're being fed false or skewed information, however, our decisions are unsound. In many cases, teenagers take part in dangerous activities because they're curious about things of which they know very little. You cannot expect your teenager to make sound, well-informed decisions if you don't provide him with the information to do so. If, for instance, you simply tell her, "Sex is bad; don't do it," you can't expect her loyalty to your rules to overrule her curiosity. Experts say you should begin demystifying the allure of dangerous activities by telling your kids about them. Show them what can happen (like drunk-driving accidents, overdoses, teen pregnancy), but don't make it a tragedy. If you go too over-the-top, your kids will sense it. Be straight-forward; yes, it can be fun, but it can also be very, very dangerous and it can ruin your life.
- Have high expectations - If you expect big things from your children, they will expect big things from themselves: it is that simple. The possibility of disappointing a loving, excited savvy dad is much more scary than being grounded. Don't expect the world of your kids, however; be realistic. Help them to stay focused on concise, attainable goals, and make sure they know that drinking and doing drugs are not compatible with those achievements. Teach them to look at every decision they make in terms of what goals they have and what they expect of themselves. If they want to be track stars, then smoking cigarettes should be a blatant example of what they shouldn't be doing. If they want to go on and become professional businesspeople, then doing drugs and getting arrested will be a detriment to their dreams.
- Don't expect more than you put in - Again, this is pretty simple: you can't expect your children to make the right choices if you're not willing to put the time in to coach them. If you're an absentee dad (whether in physical presence or emotional presence), you have no right to get angry when they do something that you don't approve of. Kids aren't mind readers. They need guidance and support, and if you're unwilling to give that to them, you can't expect them to come out the other end of the peer pressure gauntlet as a paragon of virtue.
- Set a good example - Just as before, this is a matter of hypocrisy. If you spend your evenings swigging away on a bottle, cavorting with random women on a rotating basis and having drug parties in the garage, you'll be a fool to expect your children to do otherwise. As far as they know, theirs is the normal life. If you raise them in a dangerous environment where illegal activities are common, that is the type of environment that's going to feel most like home to them. On the other hand, if you raise them in a wholesome, loving environment, then the illegal activities their friends are pushing them to take part in will stand in stark contrast.