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Are You Screwing Your Kids Up?

Did you know that skin damage caused through over exposure to the suns rays is irreparable?

Did you also know that most damage is done before somebody reaches the age of 18, but often doesn’t manifest itself until years, sometimes even decades later.

If you are a parent I’m guessing you may well have already known both those facts and as such you take precautions with your kids. You make sure they wear adequate sunscreen and hopefully even a hat in the summer months and you keep them covered up during the hottest times of the day.

After all, it’s what any responsible parent would do because you quite rightly want the best for your kids and developing melanoma doesn’t really fit into that category.

If you have kids under the age of 7 or 8 I have some good and some bad news for you.

The good news is your children will view you with the kind of reverence normally saved for Oprah, The Pope and God by most adults, even if it isn’t always immediately apparent. They’ll have total and utter trust in you and they’ll not even be able to comprehend that some of the stuff you say to them is actually a load of old crap.

The bad news though, is your kids are not very adept at separating what you say from what you do.  In other words it’s completely pointless telling them not to shout and scream if they hear your shouting and screaming on a regular basis.

If you smoke, there is a much higher likelihood that your kids will smoke too, no matter how many times you forbid them. And if you’re a serial procrastinator that never gets anything done and constantly miss deadlines, bear that in mind when you’re admonishing your 13 year-old for not finishing her homework.

Monkey see, monkey do.

A couple of years ago I was back in England talking to some friends of friends about their kids.

One of the minor drawbacks with being a Life Coach is people seem to presume that I’m also a psychologist, psychiatrist, agony aunt, medical practitioner and soothsayer. Consequently, I get asked all sorts of weird and wonderful questions I’m not always qualified to answer.

This particular couple were having trouble with their teenage son because he was stressed so much of the time and it was effecting his school work.

They expressed their complete bewilderment as to how something like this could have happened to a child of theirs at such a young age. I started to chuckle.

I wasn’t being heartless, I just thought they were joking. After the couple of seconds it took me to realize that I was the only one laughing I stopped and looked at them with amazement.

“You’re kidding, right?” I asked.

No, they weren’t kidding and they weren’t especially happy with my reaction by the looks on their faces and the glances they gave each other. In fact, they had zero idea what I was talking about.

What was so obvious to me and probably would have been to anybody that talked to these people for more than 5 minutes, was that their child had simply modeled his parents whilst growing up like any good kid is likely to do.

These people were themselves stressed senseless about their kid being stressed senseless and this obviously wasn’t a condition that was alien to them.

So what made them think their kids would grow up to be any different when they had demonstrated time and time that being stressed was the normal way to cope with situations?

That’s what kids do, they model and at the ‘Imprint Period’ (roughly between birth and 7 years), they model the people they have most contact with, usually the parents.

As they grow older and enter the ‘Modeling Period’ (approx 8 – 14) they start to model other people such as siblings, TV heroes, sporting stars and also friends. In fact, once they have gone past that stage and hit the ‘Socialization Period’ (around age 14) you have little significant influence on them no matter how loud you shout or what you threaten them with.

One of the things I’m looking for with life coaching clients is the ‘hook’ What is the thing that will get them to make the desired change and keep it, with as little fuss as possible?

This is where knowing the above information can be very useful.

Would it inspire you to make change if you knew you were teaching your kids all your bad habits as well as your good ones?

And by bad habits, I don’t just mean the obvious ones like smoking and drinking either.

Do you really want to teach your kids the belief that life sucks, working 80 hours per week is normal, worrying is a fact of life, anger is acceptable and it’s ok to give the finger to the guy that has just cut you off on the Interstate?

I suspect not, so what are you going to do about it?

21 comments to Are You Screwing Your Kids Up?

  • Right on Tim.

    But sometimes I always wonder about those kids that don’t end up like their parents. What got them to change or be different?

    Like my parents smoke. Well Dad stopped years ago, went cold turkey but mom still does. But I never picked up the habit. Matter of fact, I went crazy every time they did smoke.

    I was obese as a teenage. Mom always cooked good healthy food but no one else is obese in my family (OK maybe now they are a bit) but I am not the skinnier one :).

    Family always saw me working in the family business in the restaurants….but I choose not to and now work in Network Marketing/MLM even though they don’t understand it.

    Now, there are teens out there that look up to me. The fact that I run marathons and am active, many teens started running and are doing races. The fact that I do what I love, many teens are now thinking about what to do with their life (besides what Mom and Dad wants).

    I find it funny. I think parents need to find that person that will be a role model for their kids. Because as of now, they aren’t following mom and dad that much.

  • Hi Tim, I agree with your post. I think that the way parents act has a huge role with how their kids grow up during their childhood and teenage years. I remember that my dad was often hot-tempered when I was younger, I noticed that I would get angered easily also. My mom was very superstitious, and I hold some of those superstitions with me today. I feel a lot more calm and rational now compared to what I was like when I was younger, but when I look back on it, my parent’s habits did influence me while I was growing up and it was hard to have to change them by myself later on.

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  • This is an excellent post, Tim! I had an ‘A-Ha’ moment while reading. I consider myself a very kind, and polite person. Then I realized, that my parents always act polite and kind when they are in public.

    I guess kids are just like a sponge. It makes me excited, in the case that I am lucky enough to have kids of my own. I would do everything that I can, to model excellent behavior! Of course, nothing in life is guaranteed, but you can take the right steps to increase your chance of success!

    The $.25 idea is golden. I have made the greatest effort to eliminate those words from my vocabulary, along with the word ‘hate’. I wish that they were wiped out at an earlier age, but hey, I’m lucky that I found out how to eliminate bad vocabulary at my young age.

    Thanks again for the great post Tim!
    Josh Lipovetsky.

  • Tom

    Actually I did not know what NLP was about and I still don’t. But if it includes eliminating some words from your vocabulary, I am pleased with myself because I’ve been doing it without anyone telling me. Wow, I need to tell everyone, especially my wife.

  • @ Roy – I saw my grandfather die from emphysema brought on by smoking. I then saw the same thing happen to my mum although eventually it was her heart that quit 20 years after she quit smoking up to 3 packs per day.

    Watching this didn’t teach me to smoke it taught me smoking is likely going to fuck me up if I do.

    I think we can have different reactions and also there are other people round us that can influence our behavior. This will never be an exact science

    @ Hulbert – They can’t really not influence you and it’s the same for most people. However, if parents understand the impact they are having with their actions as much as their words, then so much the better.

    @ Josh – Thanks man. I’m with you on ‘hate’ too. I don’t like to use it and I don’t like to hear it. It makes me feel really uncomfortable. There’s enough shit in this world without looking for things to hate.

    @ Tom – Linguistics is a major part of NLP and in particular the correct use of language for communication. Sounds you like you’re doing just great without it!

  • I became a better person once I became a mother–mostly for this reason. Suddenly the stakes were higher. I realized that everything I did was something my kid would copy. It’s probably impossible to be perfect, but I do often think that the interpersonal skills are probably among the most important things we can teach our kids. So often we focus on how much TV they are getting or what junk foods they are eating. But, in terms of life survival and happiness, it totally makes sense to me that I need to be kind to others, to be assertive, to be positive, to let go of the small stuff etc etc etc so I can model and show her how to do just that.

  • @ Alisa – You know I sometimes think I’m so immature because I haven’t got any kids and I think there is a great deal of truth in what you say.

    Having said that, dogs do teach you a certain level of responsibility. Not quite the same I know ;-)

  • My boys were 3,5&6 when we adopted them. All had been removed from their homes because of severe abuse. They had also been in 10 or 11 foster homes.

    We went into it expecting that after a year of being in a “good” home, everything would be fine and we would have a perfect family. Each of the boys had tons of special help from school plus therapy, with family therapy on top of that.

    Here’s what I learned:

    1. The first two years of life are incredibly important. Help your kids feel safe and secure. At the same time, challenge them with all kinds of learning experiences. Pay attention, follow their rhythms during that time, and you have given them a gift for life.

    2. The best thing you can do is to be the best person you can be. We tried to “fix” our kids. It didn’t work. What worked was loving them, admitting our foibles, and sticking together through the tough times.

    3. In our busy lives, we sometimes try to pretend that quantity of time with your kids doesn’t matter if you give them “quality time.” Don’t fool yourself. Time spent just puttering around and being together can make a huge difference.

    4. It really does take a village to raise a child. Kids are influenced by a lot of things you can’t control, from TV to peers, to what they hear in school. The influences start a lot earlier than most of us think. Do what you can to understand your child’s “village.”

    Our boys are grown now. Two have committed relationships and are making their way in the world. Boy were we surprised and delighted at that! One is still finding himself.

  • This post touches a topic I’ve been very aware of lately. Being, shall we say, somewhat less than happy with my current work situation causes me to vocalize this often and loud. I don’t want to teach my kids that the right thing to do is work a job you don’t like just to earn money. This is not the approach I want them to take in life, and I also don’t want them to feel guilty somehow that Daddy is doing these things he hates just so he can pay for the things we need/want.

    This is an excellent motivation for change, especially since it’s hitting me right at my #1 value (per HTBRAH).

  • Parents play a huge role on their children. This is why, in my belief, parents have a tremendous responsibility to live in as enlightened a fashion as possible.

    I don’t buy into the “we’re humans too, we got our own issues.”

    If you’re parents, you have a huge responsibility, and every effort should be made in living up to that responsibility, not rationalizing. Not giving excuses. But being real role models for your children in every way.

  • @ Judy – Great comment and thanks for taking the trouble to share such a personal example. I don’t have kids, but every point you made resonates with me and I really like the bit about time.

    @ Doug – Fantastic stuff and glad to see you’re being more aware. Everyhing starts with awareness.

    @ BF – But what does enlightened even mean to most people?

  • @ Tim: I purposely chose that word to be vague. And was referring to things that I think most parents could conclude is good for their children if they took the time to think things through.

    Such as not having a bad temper… not doing drugs… being supportive, being mature and responsible, etc.

    It should be noted, though, that I don’t give advice on raising children since I don’t have any. But I do feel comfortable making general statements that parents should do their very best to be positive role models for them.

    And I like the thrust of this post that they should indeed be role models through their actions.

  • @ BF – Ok gotcha and agreed ;-)

  • Ben

    I really like this Tim.

    Being a parent to two young girls I acutely aware of how my actions and words around them. This is especially important as I know for a fact that I have picked up a lot of traits from my parents including both good and bad ones.

    I have a friend who loses his temper quickly and regularly shouts at his kids. Weirdly he’s always shocked to the core when they shout at him.

  • @ Ben – LMAO, yeh how weird they’d copy him! If i had kids the one thing I’d be so rabid on would be the correct use of language. So me using the word ‘rabid’ would probably have earned me a slap on my own legs.

  • Ben

    Yeah I know – he’s a smoker too and I did chuckle when we caught one of this kids pretending to smoke a crayon!

    Yeah language use is really tricky. I often get a soft tap (yeah right!) round the back of head from my wife when I have a language slip up

  • I like your post. This is very relevant… Most of the time kids do what they see and hear from their parents. Parents should be the example of what they want their kids to be

  • awwwwsome post.

    super interested to see what bringing up a kid is like. not too soon though – DEF not too soon :)

    what’s your take on kids who grow up in environments where parents smoke and drink, and they have a hard time, and go on to be super crazy successful and own the world?

  • I’m a parent. I’ve done the hard yards, walked the hallway at all hours of the night cradling screaming children. I’ve changed nappies, Lord knows how I’ve changed nappies! I’ve mended bicycles, applied bandages, been embarrassed socially by my offspring, had jobs at home delayed, or destroyed because ‘the little ones’ wanted to ‘Help Daddy’.

    If anyone is going to screw my kids up, then it’s going to be me, because I’ve earned it!



  • I read somewhere (I think it was Freakonomics) that what parents do has almost no influence on their children.

    On the other hand, WHO the parents ARE has all the influence in the world.

    In other words, as you say, doing a bunch of gimmicky stuff while being stressed, angry and negative will lead no stressed, angry and negative kids.

    Another piece of supporting evidence for the “Help yourself first, then help others” mentality. (Just like in airplanes, when the oxygen masks drop.)