Private, independent schools like the one I founded are uniformly concerned about the attitude and commitment of their students. While this might seem a reflection of the decline in boarding school enrollments, the same concerns are being expressed in public schools.

These concerns are largely centered on student motivation and responsibility, and reflected in absenteeism, missed assignments and a decline in work ethic and class decorum – as compared with students in the past.

Kids are kids; I learned 50 years ago that their primary teachers are parents and their primary classrooms their homes. That’s when I realized if we schools really want to help kids prepare for life, we needed to first focus on helping (and making sure) parents and families do their jobs, now more important than ever with so much remote learning.

When I was a kid, parents and family were the leaders of a child’s preparation for life to be a grown-up. “Mom and Apple Pie” centered our lives in spite of the Depression. Then Pearl Harbor was bombed and our exceptional mobilization led to the total defeat of both Hitler and Japan in less than four years – perhaps proving how well we were prepared for life

Our war experience plus the GI Bill motivated many of us to go to college to better our lives. Not surprisingly, this led us to being called America’s greatest class of college students.

However, unwittingly, it also led to a major change in how America prepares kids for life.

It began a new school emphasis: preparation to get into the best college possible, creating a national effort to reshape all schools to prep for colleges, with a very heavy emphasis on test scores and academic achievement.

What got lost in this major change in schooling is the deep undermining effect it increasingly is having on the child-rearing influence of parents and family.

Those of us who have developed meaningful and fulfilling lives have realized the powerful parent and family influence. Both my parents had problems with alcohol, but Mom endowed me with her empathy and love of people; and, in spite of my strained relationship with my stepfather, I wouldn’t be where I am today without his consistently holding me to high standards.

But the work my parents put into raising me and my siblings is now more the exception than the rule. How did this happen?

As schools increasingly emphasized preparation for college, parents increasingly emphasized it to their children. Parents failed to realize that the more they focused on Johnny’s academic performance, often at the expense of his character development, the more Johnny saw his parents abdicating their authority and instead becoming cheerleaders for the school’s efforts.

So Johnny starts paying less attention to his parents’ authority and his parents feel it, particularly since Johnny is also heavily into the internet and the youth culture. What can they do?

What many parents today do in this situation is try to develop a friend relationship with Johnny. This is usually disastrous.  At a deeper level, kids know they need help to be prepared for life, so Johnny will carry resentments for what his parents are not doing for him.

As a parent of three children, plus teaching for 70 years – including teaching parents and families for 47 years – I learned once kids get honest with themselves, they can clearly read the true purpose and commitment of their parents as it relates to them.

So if you are a parent who is not satisfied with your relationship with your kids, recommit yourself to preparing them for life: 1. Seek their best; 2. Prepare them for self-sufficiency.

Both of these involve challenges, so prepare for conflicts. If you haven’t sufficiently emphasized No. 1 and No. 2, you will probably get strong resistance. Kids don’t listen to what you say; instead, they read your heart. If this emphasis is new to you, then your efforts will be coming out of your head. So expect strong resistance until your heart is leading the way because you understand that your role is not to be a friend to your child, but to be the parent.

That is the true lifelong relationship.


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