What do you tell your children when they say they need expensive shoes so they can be "popular" at school? If their shoes cost more than yours, isn't something wrong? Children are afraid they won't be "loved" by their peers if they wear cheap clothes. And parents are afraid they won't be "loved" by their children if they don't give in to their demands. I don't mean to imply expensive shoes are inherently bad. Not at all. If your children have a part-time job and buy their own shoes, they learn valuable lessons. For example, they'll learn that hard work is rewarded and we can set goals and reach them. Not to mention, self-reliance.
No, there's nothing wrong with expensive shoes, but there is something wrong with the belief that one is entitled to receive them. Your kids are entitled to shoes, but not to choosing the brand, unless all brands cost the same. Parents may give in to their children's demands because of guilt, especially if both parents work and they don't spend as much time with their children as they would like to. They may comply because they are afraid their children won't like them if they refuse. Or they may consent to buy the shoes simply to end their children's nagging. None of these are the right reasons for acting, and they all teach our children terrible lessons.
When we give in because of guilt or convenience, we teach our children how to manipulate us. Girls who pick up this skill grow up to manipulate young men into spending money on gifts. Such women develop shaky relationships that are bound to crumble and lead to unhappiness. Boys grow up into men that try to manipulate others in the workplace, a practice that can only lead to long-term problems.
When we give in, we also reinforce our children's belief that they are entitled to privileges. They come to believe the world owes them a living. Once they join a company, they expect to be paid merely for showing up. They fail to realize success is earned. They need to understand that we don't succeed by putting in time, but by putting in effort.
Unless we teach our children self-control, we encourage them to give in to their cravings. If they can't control their desire for new shoes, how will they resist the powerful impulses of sexual desire? Is it really surprising the number of single moms continues to rise?
Instead of giving in to peer pressure, our children have the opportunity to develop courage, responsibility, and individualism. Rather than blindly following the whims of others, why not set the trends? Of course, some conforming to social pressure is both acceptable and desirable. For one has to learn how to conform to the laws of the land and the rules of the workplace, but one's will must never be handed over blindly. Conformity must be preceded by careful thought. We should willingly and happily conform to whatever helps us and society. However, we should resist and peacefully try to change any rules, customs, or habits that would harm ourselves or others. Give your children the support and courage to be themselves. If someone makes fun of them, let them quote Bruce Lee, who said, "I'm not in this world to live up to your expectations and you're not in this world to live up to mine."
To resist peer pressure, kids need to have sufficient self-esteem. They have to recognize and appreciate their own value. But how can they do so if they are constantly criticized at home? The little praise they did receive is quickly replaced by expectations. For example, parents urge their children to excel at school, and when they do so, they are praised at first. However, as they continue to do well in school, the parents expect this behavior and stop praising them. Yet, no opportunity for criticism is missed. If children's needs for recognition and belonging are not fulfilled at home, is it surprising that they look for it among their peers?
When we tell our children it is okay to buy expensive shoes to be popular at school, we are teaching them to be shallow. We are teaching them to judge people by what they wear or have instead of by what they are. Shallow young men search for a pretty face and an attractive figure. Shallow young women search for men with a good car and decent job. What happened to values like faithfulness, integrity, devotion, understanding, patience, encouragement, and unconditional love? When the foundation for marriage becomes a pretty face and a nice car, why are we surprised by the number of divorces?
For their own good and the good of others, don't let your children play with fire. Teach them responsibility. Our job is to prepare our children for life by teaching them values. When we fail to prepare them, we are clipping their wings and hampering their future growth. They need to learn that we develop our potential by contributing to society, not by getting a free ride.
We did not decide to make the sky blue, grass green, or summers warm. But that doesn't mean we can't appreciate them. True, your children didn't choose their parents, their place of birth, or their circumstances. But that doesn't mean they can't appreciate them. Unless we learn how to be grateful for what we have, how will we appreciate what we will have in the future? We need to own less, not more. The more we own, the less we appreciate what we have. If we want our children to be happy, we need to help them understand this.
Don't spoil your children as that will only harm them. But you can never spoil them by offering "too much" love, acceptance, appreciation, or encouragement. As long as they are loved, they can learn to live with (and value) limits. Don't give them a wishbone, give them a backbone. Train them, but don't break them. They need to learn self-reliance. Although it may occasionally feel that way, you are not raising a circus animal. Your role is not to be in control as much as it is to guide. How can your children grow if they don't have the room to do so? They need space, the room to make their own decisions, the right to make mistakes (as long as they are not serious mistakes like getting pregnant or taking drugs).
Isn't it odd how something as insignificant as the shoes we wear can have such an impact on our lives? Perhaps we need to look a little more closely at the decisions we make.
© Chuck Gallozzi
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