There are many things where I am not an expert, and parenting and mentoring children is certainly on that list.  But taking from my experience both as a parent and as a judge on the Juvenile Court and with Peer Court, I have gathered some thoughts over the years as to what works in that regard.  So with the New Year now with us, I thought that, in addition to loving our children, which is probably the most critical element in their positive  development, I would share some of those additional thoughts with you:

  • Teach our children the critical lesson that: “It’s fun to learn!”  Once they start to appreciate that fact, they will see that everything is interrelated.  So learning about one thing teaches them about many others.  And that makes life much more fascinating.
  • Another critical guideline to teach our children is to “Eschew Mediocrity.”  (I know this word is pompous, but I used it for emphasis in my high school musical “Americans All,” and it worked.)  Make excellence a pattern so if people know that, for example, Ellen did the job, they would know that it had been done right.  Thus “Good Enough” seldom is good enough.  One way to accomplish that outcome is to require all children to have regular chores to do from an early age, and be sure they are consistently done and done well.  Once again, excellence is a learned pattern of conduct.
  • “You Show Me your Friends, and I’ll Show You your Future!”  For example, if you hang out with colleagues who ditch school, smoke marijuana, talk back to their teachers and don’t apply themselves in their studies, the odds are overwhelming that you will do the same.  So, to pursue that thought, ask teenagers to close their eyes and think about the three people they hang out with the most.  And, without telling you who they are, ask the question: “Do you think they will be successful in their lives?”  If not, maybe you should hang out with a different group of people.   Another approach is to ask the question: “What is a friend?”  Does someone who encourages you to shop lift a CD, be truant or lie about your conduct really a “friend?”  Maybe that person is just a former friend, or maybe has always just been an acquaintance
  • Children should know where their boundaries of conduct are, and that those boundaries will be enforced – and then they will thrive within those boundaries.  Teenagers expect their parents to parent – and are inwardly disappointed when they don’t.  (Some parents are amazed at this thought, as they have instead simply tried to be their children’s “friends.”  But that is notthe same thing!)
  • Ask teenagers how old they are right now, and then how old they will be ten years from now.    (I only had one young man get the wrong answer to this question.)  Then ask them what they want their lives to look like ten years from now.  (We all know that those ten years will go by quickly, but for a teenager it will seem like an eternity.)  So if you want to be an engineer, attorney, mechanic or medical doctor, what are you doing right now to further those worthwhile goals?  And will shoplifting at Target help you achieve them? 
  • “Your Dreams Don’t Work Unless You Do.”  Another way to drive home this thought is for a parent, teacher or other mentor to say: “I help those who help themselves.”
  • Teach children to question information, regardless of its source.  For example, one of my triumphs of parenting occurred one day when my three children, then at ages 9, 9 and 6, were driving with me through an area where there were sheets of plastic on the ground to nurture the growth of young strawberry plants.  So I said casually, “Look kids, this is where they grow plastic,” to which they responded: “Oh really Daddy, oh really?”  I said nothing.  But after we had driven another five miles down the road one of my children piped up and said: “Oh, come on Dad.”  I still see that as an important lesson for them.
  • Teach children that it often pays to postpone gratification.  People who can do that are much more likely to be successful than those who cannot.
  • Of course, grandparents should strongly to assist in the development of children, but it is also their obligation to spoil the grandchildren.  So do it without apology!

Okay, this edition has been much longer than I was expecting, but if even some of these thoughts make sense and are helpful, please use them and pass them along to other parents, teachers, coaches, scout leaders and other mentors as well.  It is hard for me to come up with a more important subject.  And if you have some other suggestions for successful parenting and mentoring, please pass them back to me.  If there are enough suggestions, we can revisit this issue in a future edition of 2 Paragraphs.

Judge Jim Gray (Ret.)
2012 Libertarian candidate for Vice President, along with
Governor Gary Johnson as the candidate for President