It Takes a Village

So you want your kids to be amazing, and why they already are!
I begin here for a few reasons. First, and most practically, the beginning of any task is the best place to lay a road map, so we’ll talk a bit about where we’ll go over the next 5 weeks together. Second, after working with kids, parents and families for the past 10 years I have often found myself thinking, “If only they knew this sooner, then things may have been different.” The sooner this message gets out, the better. So what’s the message?

No matter what you do, your parenting alone will not be enough for your kids.

Disagree? Let me give the simplest example I can. I’m currently raising 2 young daughters: a 2 year old and 7 month old. Though I’m hopeful I will be a good father to them, I’m certain that I could never give to my daughters all that they will receive from their mother – my parenting alone would not be enough. My girls need strong women in their lives. All of our kids need the guidance and support of their parents and the leadership of family, friends, community members and other trusted adults.

A few years ago I led a discussion on supporting hurting teenagers. I began to speak to the importance of building a strong support system in a child’s life when a mother raised her hand and asked, “What if my son is 17 and doesn’t have anyone like that?”

How do you tactfully say, “It’s probably too late?”

Sometime around early adolescence, a child’s primary support system begins to shift away from their parents, and toward their social groups. This is not to say that a parent’s work must be completed by the time their child enters middle school, but it does highlight the importance of building strong and healthy foundations early in life. I’m also not pessimistic enough to believe even for a moment that all hope is lost for a struggling 18 year old without a support system; I just recognize that there is a sweet spot.

A healthy support system is one of a long list of protective factors. Protective factors are exactly what they sound like, variables in one’s life that work as buffers and supports, especially in times of stress or crisis, to protect that individual. Other examples are as practical as financial stability, or as abstract as altruism and self-esteem. Look at any good list of protective factors, and you’ll see something relating to a healthy support system – this is no secret or surprise. The beauty of building a support system in a child’s life is that it can create a life-long habit of surrounding oneself with healthy leaders and influences. As humans, we are hardwired to be in relationship – as a parent you can play a part in what those relationships may look like for your child by modeling and showcasing healthy connections. The model you exemplify to your children, and the habits you help them to build now will be of immeasurable benefit for generations to come.

Over the next several weeks we’ll look at some of the challenges both kids and parents are up against, and how to look at them through a different lens with a more informed perspective. We’ll talk media use, self-injury, and how to care for ourselves as parents. Next week I’ll start to answer the question that I get asked a lot, “Is it normal…?”

There is so much more to be said about support systems that can’t be said in these few paragraphs. Let me know if you’d like to learn more.

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