When it comes to parenting, there is nothing I care more about than character.
And thankfully, I don’t think I’m alone in this. Yesterday on my Facebook page I asked what character qualities readers hoped to instill in their kids. Comments came flooding in: “Empathy, kindness, resilience, respect, honesty, integrity, gratitude, humility, thoughtfulness…” and the list went on. People mentioned the challenge of raising kids of character in a world often promoting selfishness, disrespect and a sense of entitlement. Yes, raising kids of character is not for the faint of heart.
Yet what a difference it can make if we can raise kids of character in this world so desperately needing it!
Billy Graham said, “When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost.”
Raising kids of character is worth every effort on our part.
So how do we teach kids character? Many aspects of parenting are hard, but some are more straight forward than others. I for one, appreciate the obvious teach-and-learn, effort-and-reward parts of parenting. But teaching character is trickier than say, teaching kids to brush their teeth, wipe their bottoms, or tie their shoes. (Though the last two might tie for a close second in our home rightaboutnow.)
I always say that the most important thing we can do as parents is set authentic examples for our kids, and character is no exception. In a previous post I talked about the high calling parents have to set an example in the way they live their daily lives. So yes, as a general rule: parents with great character qualities will model this to their kids, and ideally, it will rub off. That’s a good start.
We can also talk to our kids about character–teaching them and training them (especially when they are young) what it means to be men and women of character. We can inspire them with great stories, teach them spiritual principles, and surround them with positive examples. We can involve our kids in service projects and encourage them to make a difference. Then we can reward them with high fives and stickers on a chart and praise them for what we see growing in them.
But what happens when they get a little older?
What do we do when we see areas of concern in our TEENAGERS’ CHARACTER?
What if we have done our very best, and still see a certain attitude or disposition…a complaining, critical spirit, a poor work ethic, self-pity, meanness, disrespect, or blatant selfishness?
And the high fives and sticker charts are no longer working.
Or maybe the better question is: Is there anything we can do?
Yes! I say yes.
I say yes to you and I say yes to me and yes to my own teenagers with their own character issues. (yes! My boys have them too!)
Yes we should take character issues seriously, and in my opinion, we should put more focus on character than a lot of the things we fret over every day.
Someone might argue that teenagers will have mood swings and bad attitudes and we need to just let them go through it, and sure–I get that. We do need to give our teens some space (and give them a lot of sleep too). But I’m talking here about that thing you see that you just know in your knower is an issue. The thing that’s becoming a part of your teen’s personality. And the thing that you know, if left alone, could grow to become a character flaw with much bigger ramifications down the road. (and if you’re like me you might be an expert at lying awake at 2:00 AM while you go through all of those potential ramifications. Most of which end on the streets or in jail.) (please don’t be like me.)
But really! We should not let fear rule us, but we should recognize the importance of focusing on character. Especially into the teenage years.
Helping kids grow in character: When they hit their teens, we should continue to talk to our teens about character issues, and we must continue to set an example for them. But as they get older, they need to find inspiration outside of Mom and Dad. They need to discover lessons and develop convictions on their own.
With this in mind, I started something new this year, and it’s going so well I thought I’d share it with you, too.
I thought of this new thing spontaneously, (on January 2nd to be exact,) and right there on the spot, I asked my boys for a full-year commitment. Yep, call me crazy, but I assigned my boys one more thing to add to their already busy schedule. I understand that no teenager has extra time–but I decided that this might just need to push something else out of the way. It’s that important.
And (for lack of a better name) I simply call it:
DAILY CHARACTER TRAINING
Character training is thirty minutes of reading, listening to a podcast or a video directly related to character. This is different form their Bible devotions (which my boys also do daily), and aside from all school assignments. Their character training time may have a spiritual element to it, but it doesn’t have to. I started them off with a stack of books, a few podcasts, and some blog posts. I also gave them each a journal.
Now I require them to spend at least thirty minutes a day reading or listening (or watching) and then they are required to journal these three simple things:
1. THE DATE
2. WHAT THEY READ/LISTENED TO etc. (book title and chapter/page, etc. cite it specifically so they can find it later if they want to.)
3. ONE TAKE-HOME LESSON OR TRUTH THEY LEARNED THAT DAY.
At first there was a little push-back. “No way Mom–I’m too busy!” “I’m reading so much for school already!” “I already do devotions every day.” “Why?….”
I didn’t let them sway me. Nope. Add the thirty minutes. Write it down. Just do what I say and don’t argue. (I’m sweet like that.) I had to
harp on gently remind them every day at first. I checked their journal and got on them if they were not taking notes. I was determined.
But soon it became a habit.
A full month into it, I began to see changes. I found the most amazing things in their journals (They agreed that I could read these particular journals.) I saw notes about areas that they needed to work on. Quotes. Stories about people who inspired them. They were appreciating character qualities from great writers and inspiring people from history.
I only required one line in their journal, but most days they had full pages.
True to our family style, we are not super rigid about how this is done. And they don’t usually fit in seven days a week. I’d say they’re averaging five. But the cool thing is, they like it! When one book is completed, a son might listen to a podcast series for a couple of days. Then on to the next book. I might pick out a few blog posts to assign them for a day or two, trying to keep things interesting. Often, they like the books so much they read them at night as well as in their morning “character time”.
As of now–over three months into it, I can say this is going well. It’s sticking. I see a difference. I hear different words and I see them choosing different styles of communicating. And…when I do see a struggle with attitude or behavior, I can refer to their journal and suggest they go look over their notes.
Because self-correction is so much more valuable than Mom-correction.
I’ll list the books and other resources I have used in our lineup so far. I’m sure there are many more great options out there, and I am absolutely gathering more things to add to my list as I go. (I didn’t exactly plan this in advance.) If you have any to add to the list, feel free to leave a note in comments.
As for my boys, the requirement is that the resources we use are #1: focused on character, and #2: In alignment with God’s Word (even if they aren’t “Christian books”.)
Here’s the books they have read or on the list to be read*:
Also: some individual blog posts, Ted Talks, Youtube videos, and chapters taken from books I have read.
PROVERBS: I don’t know if it fits under their devotions, or Character Training time, but I also ask my boys to read one chapter of Proverbs every day as well. (with 31 chapters, it is super easy to read one for each day of the month!) In my opinion, Proverbs is the greatest character training, wisdom-building tool available!
Please keep in mind: Character is a big topic and forming character is best developed through intentional parenting and a lot of consistent communication and effort. Our new “character training” assignment is just one helpful tool we are using. With that said, I am really excited to see the difference it is making!
Leave me a comment with your thoughts on teens and character, or tools you use to instill character qualities in your kids.
PS I am personally reading this book right now and absolutely loving it: Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World: How One Family Learned That Saying No Can Lead to Life’s Biggest Yes
*Some of the books mentioned have Amazon affiliate links. This means that if you click-through my link and buy something, I will benefit a few cents from each purchase. Thank you for supporting my blog in this way! 🙂