Turns out it really does take a village to raise a child.
“It’s not a solo act,” Micah Jacobson (photo right) said. “When we do it together, it’s so much easier.”
Jacobson spoke before several dozen Foothill parents Monday evening as part of the school’s character week events. Earlier in the day, Jacobson delivered a more kid-friendly version of his talk at two school assemblies.
Jacobson, a speaker with the Santa Cruz-based Boomerang Project, admitted right off the bat that he’s not a parenting expert. He doesn’t have all the answers.
“My job is not to be the guy who knows more than you,” he said. But as a speaker who’s traveled to middle and high schools across the country, “I’ve seen more than you’ve seen.”
The funny, personable speaker reminded parents that we have all the skills we need to raise our kids.
“But in that moment when your kids push you, you can’t remember what you need,” he said. “The truth is that we can’t have all the answers. Those are the times when we need to reach out for help.”
Jacobson’s objective, he said, was to share some ideas and tools parents can use when they’re at the end of their ropes. In many cases, he admitted he was merely reminding parents of these skills.
Jacobson explained how kids need different parenting styles at different stages of their lives. Some parenting skills rely more on directives – telling our kids what to do. Some skills rely more on support – being there when our kids need us.
“The goal is that at the end of the journey, we have kids who can function by themselves,” he said. “We want them to function independently without us.”
The first few years of a child’s life, parents must teach them obedience.
“If you failed to do that, it’s not too late,” he noted. “It’s a lot more difficult.”
The skill sets learned at various stages of life build on each other, he said. When kids are older, roughly ages , is when they start to understand what is expected of them instead of simply following your rules.
“This is where character comes in,” Jacobson said. This is when, for example, you can explain to your kids that being on time shows respect for others. Explain why honesty is crucial or why hard work pays off.
As kids age, from about 8 to 13, is when they learn to negotiate and make decisions.
“The number one place they learn to negotiate is at home,” Jacobson said. “They have to learn in a place where you have shared values.”
Kids might negotiate a bed time or curfew. Teach them to present a rational argument. Ask them to present a responsible plan. Make them address your specific concerns. Suspend privileges if they don’t follow the rules.
When kids hit the teen years is when you need to help them find the resources they need to achieve their goals in life. Maybe you can help arrange an internship or camp that’s geared toward their career goals.
“By the time your kids are in high school, your goal is no longer to be telling your kids what to do,” Jacobson said. “Your goal is to have them decide what to do.”
As kids get older, they need less directive and more support.
“The better analogy is coach,” he said. “That’s who you’re trying to be as a high school parent.”
Parents should be careful to observe their children – to truly see who their kids are.
Parents have the tendency with teens to “stop noticing who they are and remember who we were,” Jacobson noted. Avoid this pitfall and recognize your kids for the individuals they are.
Our work isn’t done even as our kids approach high school graduation, Jacobson said.
“Whatever your kids’ path, you need to know the steps they need to get there,” he said.
Don’t fret if your teens stonewall you with monosyllabic answers or mere grunts. Draw them out with either-or questions.
If your teen’s response to every question is “I don’t know,” then your comeback should be “What if you did know?” or even “Guess.” It forces teens to think, whether they want to or not, Jacobson said.
If they throw conversation shut-downs your way – I hate you! You’re nosy! Leave me alone! – keep your cool. Your reply should be, “Tell me more.”
“You would be amazed at how those three little words will open up your kids,” Jacobson said. “When you let your kids know that these conversation shut-downs no longer work, they’ll quit doing it.”
When you ask that follow-up question, be prepared to devoted several minutes of your undivided attention. Look them in the eyes. Pay attention.
Extremely stubborn kids may need some alone time. Tell them you’ll talk at dinner or half an hour after they get home from school.
When you’re met with silence, Jacobson recommends giving kids space, rephrasing your question and finally, hitting them with specific questions, like tell me about your favorite class today or what happened at lunch.
When teens are older and nearly impossible to tolerate, “don’t give up on them,” Jacobson said. “Resist that temptation.”
Stick to your guns. Support your kids. Share your values. In the end, the end result will be worth the extra effort.
“That time when they leave and they’re walking away, what a great feeling to say, ‘I know they’re OK,’ ” Jacobson said.