After many years in practice, the benefit of following both parents and children over the years (and sometimes decades) adds depth to the findings in the clinical literature. It becomes fascinating to watch as habits patterns emerge, and impact upon future lives. Today, I review several observations that may help inform your choices in the months and years ahead.
Three Observations on Habits and Destiny
What follows may seem obvious, and perhaps not. As with all data, these are tendencies, and always there are outliers; those individuals who do not fit these conclusions. Some are positive outliers, as they have overcome the odds of a poor home environment and excel. Others are negative outliers, and despite all the positive home and school influences, they choose a destructive life pattern.
But these outliers are not the norm. Most will succumb to the profound influences inherent in the conclusions below. So here they are:
1) What Parents Consistently Model Matters Most.
When parents model good habits, these translate to daily actions that children experience. They tend to set up routines and structures at home to support these healthy daily actions, and this sets a strong foundation for kids, young and old.
When one parent is on a healthy track (e.g., bed early, up early, exercising, and productive) while the other is struggling (e.g., bed late, sleeps in, depressed and limited productivity), then the influence is mixed. There may even be conflict between mom and dad over which habits are then acceptable for a child, which is also a negative habit. Here, the model is confusing, and the results often very mixed. Some kids have a deeper bond with the healthy parent and gravitate in that direction while other children bond with the parent who is struggling and align with those patterns.
In the end, the conclusion holds: what matters most is what parents CONSISTENTLY model.
2) Experiential Learning Becomes Even More Important.
As children age, they move from parent-focused learning to more and more self and social absorption. This is natural and needed.
In this transition, however, their brain becomes focused (and quite creative) on figuring out how to get what they want. Most children and teens will want what is pleasing and make for the most immediate gratification. Yes, as adults, we know that this course is filled with danger and unhappiness.
The ongoing immediate fulfillment of desires, if limits are not set, will create a ‘monster’ in one form or another. And we see the impact of this with electronic media where games, social media, and unlimited streaming allow kids the potential for untethered access to immediate stimulation/gratification.
- What is the daily experience? I want. I get.
- What is the hourly experience? I want. I get.
- What is the minute to minute experience? I want. I get.
The experiential learning is that immediate impulses get fulfilled. And, do you see children or teens who are effusively happy and gratified, with these experiences? The answer is an overwhelming NO. There is no happiness or sustained gratification here because this is not the source of the ‘good stuff’ in life.
The good stuff, in every form, evolves from sustained efforts over time. We don’t get happy because we seek happiness. We find an activity that is meaningful, and we engage in that activity with our eye on something bigger.
We don’t get long-term relief from our anxiety or stress from a martini or a hit on our vape; we only get an addiction to the substance. To get relief, we must uncover our stressful thoughts through effort and self-examination, or perhaps we seek change through Neurofeedback or some habit that brings consistent ease.
We don’t develop valued skills by quitting every time we get corrected for mistakes, seeking an easier job situation. Instead, we must accept such feedback, realize it’s not personal, and then get to the task of learning and growing as an employee or citizen. This takes some time to become valued and then rewarded economically for that value.
This lesson has many layers to it and is critically important with the world that has emerged in the last few months. And more challenges lay ahead. So, I simply ask that you examine what your children are learning, day to day, and realize that these habits will be hard to change. Especially this one!
3) Content Matters…But Only Completely.
What do I mean here? It’s quite simple: the research shows, and I see it daily, that what we consume in content is constantly shaping our lives. We can’t watch or listen to something without it having an impact. For the evolving brain of a child or adolescent, this is more so.
In essence, everything that is consumed…matters. It matters if your child is obsessed with new stuff, and more stuff, and you buy it for them. It matters if your child leans toward violent video games, and you allow it. It matters if your son is shouting profanities to his peers online, and you do not step in. It matters if your teen cannot stop taking pictures of herself and talking about image and appearance.
It also matters if you sit around the table, and complaints, negativity, and judgment abound. It matters if you indulge your children in their complaints about school, siblings, or other issues on a repeated basis. It matters if the family movie night is filled with fear, violence, and aggression, even if PG.
Just this week, a family struggling with a disrespectful 12-year-old acknowledged noticing that their son was consistently mean and ugly after watching a PG Saturday morning show, filled with scenes of stupid adults doing stupid things while teens are the smart, brilliant ones.
So, It All Matters?
Yes, because this is all training brain wave patterns. And brain wave patterns are just that: Patterns. They tend to stick and be hard to change. In daily life, we call these habits.
Habits overwhelmingly tend to stick. And, they often create our destiny simply because they are so hard to change. Please see this and accept the role we play as parents.
In this evolving world, we find ourselves in a unique situation with the herd generally becoming laxer and laxer. I ask you to see the impact and step away from the herd. The herd is making excuses and wants the easy path out. Their kids have a permissive world with few limits. Do not do this.
Instead, stop complaining and seeking ease. Take daily actions that create meaningful, sustainable healthy habits. Be creative and find actions that bring growth and value. Yes, there will be grief and complaints, but this is the price of teaching lessons that matter. Suck it up and get on with it.