As every parent knows, children aren’t the best listeners. They are, however, masters of studying, observing and imitating everything. As children are the masters of observation, the values and habits modeled in adult behaviors becomes a very powerful teaching mechanism, especially in adolescents who study adults more closely than children.
By their very nature, adolescents are going through a significant number of physical, psychological, emotional and hormonal changes. Even though it is a very short and challenging period in their lives, it is a significantly challenging time that is reflected in moodiness, depression and irrational emotional outbursts.
While adolescents masterfully commiserate with each other in this period, they are also exploring or looking ahead to what is next in their developmental cycle. The answer is adulthood. With their observant mindset turned on, they study the adults—parents, teachers, neighbors—in their life to see what they have to look forward to.
In today’s highly-charged, competitive, tense and self-absorbed environment, most adolescents would be hard pressed to find an adult that isn’t displaying their struggles with the pressures in their life. If the quest is to have children who are feeling hope, joy, opportunity, happiness and accomplishment about their life and their future as an adult, it may be disturbing to think about the adult behaviors being modeled before them and the message these behaviors are sending.
These modeled adult behaviors combined with their own normal emotional issues have a profound impact on adolescents. Struggling to feel good about themselves as adolescents and watching adults unhappy with their lives is a big reason many adolescents seek to escape, act out, rebel, or simply try to find a way to feel better. These emotional responses can manifest themselves in the form of bullying, sexual promiscuity, drinking, drug abuse and vandalism. Children engage in these behaviors as part of their quest to momentarily feel better, escape from feeling bad, or find relief from the lack of hope they see in their adult future.
Today’s parents need to recognize and understand the impact their pressures, concerns, worries and frustrations have on their child’s development and on how they see the world. They don’t see the world in the same way their parents do. Theirs begins as an innocent view that becomes developed over a period of personal experiences and interactions, including what they observe and learn from adults living in a place of unhappiness, dissatisfaction, worry and fear.
As you examine the world you create for your child, take a moment to ask yourself, what behaviors am I modeling? Remember, that is all your child really sees and internalizes.
By // Dave Cooke