When I started homeschooling eight years ago, another homeschooling friend told me that she spent some days working solely on character building. When families have young kids, it’s pretty common for parents to focus on things like encouraging kids to be nice to each other, to show respect to others—you know, being kind. And as kids grow and develop, it’s not like we stop teaching these lessons. In fact, when kids become tweens and teens, there are ample opportunities to continue building on the foundation we started long ago.
My girls are 14 and 11 years old and they are good kids. They can be kind and outgoing. They care for their animals and are responsible with their belongings. They volunteer in our community and get good grades. But, as any parent knows, you get the bad with the good. Kids make bad choices. They screw up. And I do, too.
Sometimes, however, if we act appropriately when our kids act inappropriately, we can build our own character as we help shape theirs.
Last month my brother, his wife, and their two kids ages 9 and 5, came to visit. They stayed with us in our home and we did all the touristy things together. Everyone had a lot of fun. And, just as most families do, we got on each other’s nerves just a little bit. One night when they were here, we’d all been on the go all day. We were tired and a little cranky and my brother snapped at his daughter at the dinner table. He kind of lost it and my kids thought it was funny to see their uncle get so worked up over his daughter’s table manners. It was maybe a 30-second incident, but it was memorable.
So, for my brother’s birthday, my kids made him some videos where they reenacted this small piece in time and—against my repeated advice—posted the videos to his Facebook page. My girls waited all day for their uncle to call and laugh with them about their “wacky” videos. He didn’t call. As it turned out, my brother was not at all amused. It seemed to him that my girls were mocking him and it really hit a nerve. His wife said that it ruined his birthday.
What can you really do to undo something that’s been done? It’s a little bit like teaching your kids the power of bad words and rumors by having them say something bad or untruthful about someone and for each statement, you have them pound a nail into a board. Then you ask them to take away the bad words as they remove the nails…but the holes from the nails still remain. Here was an example of that very lesson. As their mother I was embarrassed by my kids’ actions and disappointed that they didn’t heed my advice when they posted the videos. I intuitively knew this would be the outcome.
I told my girls that they’d caused this problem and they were responsible for coming up with a solution. The first thing my teen did was to remove the Facebook post and delete the videos. But that wasn’t enough. I said they’d have to call their uncle and talk it out. Five days had passed before they were able to reach him. They asked me to leave the room while they spoke. I could hear his voice over the speaker phone, still very emotional, as he talked with the girls. They seemed very quiet. It wasn’t a punishment; it was a reality check and I wasn’t going to protect them from what he had to say. He spoke out of love and out of correction. He was stern….and they got the message!
When they hung up they were silent. They didn’t really want to talk about it. I think they were ashamed of their actions.
Later on, my brother and I talked about what he had shared with the girls about “what was intended vs. what was perceived.” Even if they hadn’t meant any harm, they had caused real damage. He told them that if they weren’t his nieces and had done something so cruel he would never talk to them again. That shocked them, but it reinforced the messages about social media that we’ve been trying to get across for a long time in our home. I’m thankful that my brother cared enough to talk to my kids and let them know about the real impact of their actions. While I’m not proud of my kids’ actions, I am somewhat relieved that they learned this lesson at this point in their lives. As their uncle explained, he’s had to reprimand adults in their 50s and 60s for the same type of misbehavior when he worked for the HR department at a company.
More time has passed and my kids have talked about their time on the Internet. My teen has decided that maybe she could curb her online appetite and see how it goes. So far, so good.
I know my kids grew from this mistake, and so did I. It’s not easy to watch your kids make a blunder and hurt someone you love. But I knew as a parent that they had to be held accountable. This wasn’t a mistake that could be fixed by me taking away their cell phones or assigning additional chores. This was a matter of the heart and had to be dealt with swiftly and thoughtfully. I’m able to sleep again and my constant stomach ache from this ordeal has subsided. Parenting is filled with teachable moments. Sometimes we get to teach the fun things like how crochet a scarf or how to cook a well-balanced meal. Other times we teach difficult things like how to be confident when performing a solo for the first time. But we should always endeavor to build character no matter what else we teach our kids. There seem to be fewer parents out there who want to correct their kids, maybe because they want to be perceived as ‘the good guy.’ But when we teach our kids these life lessons, it builds our character too. These harder lessons should be embraced for the teaching tools they are. After all, character building is good for everyone!