We all want to be accepted to some degree. That’s one of those things that doesn’t change with age. Whether you’re 5 or 55, we all desire some form of outside validation. If this is true, how can we teach our children not to let what others think and say bother them? To stand proud and follow their dreams, no matter who tells them they can’t. And how do we breathe confidence and encouragement into our little ones when others are filling their minds with doubt?
Growing up in today’s society is far from easy. Between social acceptance, educational standards and expectations, and just growing up in the world we live in, our children need as much support and guidance as we can offer. Raising a well-rounded child is no easy task. My son is only seven years old, but he’s an extremely mature and inquisitive seven. We talk a lot about the future, his life choices, and how the world works. I love his questions and try to answer them as honestly as possible.
Lately, he’s been asking me a lot about high school and college. Does he need to live at the college or can he live at home? Does he need a job in high school and what kind? When will he get his license? What will his first car be? Our conversations are priceless. I get a sneak peek into my son’s most inner thoughts, concerns, curiosities, and insecurities. And during those moments, I try my best to fill him with hope, confidence, and determination. Here are just a few questions he’s asked recently and my attempts to answer them!
Question #1: Do I have to move away to college?
Answer: No, but I think you should.
I attended a local college and commuted to and from the campus each day. It was fine for me. I was only 17 when I graduated high school and extremely close to my mother. The thought of moving away from home struck fear in me. I still received a wonderful education that laid the groundwork for my acceptance into graduate school. But, looking back, I do wish I had experienced dorm life. The independence and freedom of living on your own. The responsibility and confidence that inherently accompany life outside of your childhood home would have served me well. And I see a lot of myself in my son.
He fears change and is extremely dependent on me. He looks to me for reassurance and safety, which is completely normal and endearing, however, I know he would benefit from spreading his wings a bit. Living at college would offer him the opportunity to gain more self-confidence and prove to himself what he is capable of. I would never force him to go and would likely cry like a baby the day he left, but I would encourage him to do so. I regret having not gone away to school and I would hate for him to experience that same regret.
Question #2: Do I need to get a job once I’m in high school?
Answer: If you want to eat, yes.
Of course, that was not my exact answer and is a little extreme. But, I do think that young adults should be responsible for some of their own expenses. I told my son that his first job in high school is to be a good student. He needs to study hard, apply himself, and maintain good grades. This comes easier to some than others. If he’s able, I’d love to see him involved in a variety of extracurricular activities and sports or inducted into the National Honor Society like I was. If all of these things take up a majority of his time and energy, I don’t think I would push him to get a job.
Yes, earning money and being responsible for putting gas in your own car, helping pay for said car, and fun money for weekend activities is important. But if I see that my son is putting 110 percent into his school life, sports, and other activities, I wouldn’t want to see those things suffer by adding an after-school job to the mix. I think giving my son an allowance for performing jobs around the house like mowing the grass, doing the dishes, and other chores is another great way to teach him responsibility and the ability to earn his own keep without sacrificing his education.
Question #3: When can I have my first girlfriend?
Answer: *Silent stare*
The silence only lasted for a few minutes, partially because I was shocked my seven-year-old didn’t think girls had cooties and partially because I wasn’t sure how to answer! I remember having crushes on classmates as young as Kindergarten. I’m sure we’ve all been there – the pushing of each other on the playground, chasing each other around, turning beet red when you found out someone “likes you”. All of these things are a normal and healthy part of development, starting around the age of 5 or 6, so apparently, my son was spot on!
I was inclined to tell him that this was a conversation he should have with his father, but I didn’t want him to think he couldn’t come to me with his “girl problems” either. I explained to him that having a girlfriend, for real, is something that waits until he is much older. But that it’s perfectly normal for him to like a girl or for a girl to like him at this age. We talked about what to do if he likes a girl and she doesn’t like him back, or vice-versa. I explained to him that no matter how the girl reacts or how he might feel toward another girl’s unreturned affection, that he must always treat them kindly and with respect.
He recently gave his crush a chocolate heart for Valentine’s Day, which she promptly dropped on the ground and ran away from. His little heart was crushed, but I explained to him that perhaps she didn’t know how to react. Maybe she was embarrassed or no one had ever given her a gift before. I told him that even if she acted that way at first, I bet she was thinking about his gesture all afternoon and if even for just a split second, it made her feel special.
He recently discovered another young girl from school has a crush on him, “But I don’t like her like that”, he explained to me. And I told him that was okay, but that he still needed to be kind to her. I reminded him of how he felt when his crush dropped the chocolate heart and ran away. “Bad”, he said. Exactly. I told him we don’t ever want to make anyone else feel bad. And that holds true from the time you’re 7 until your 27. But as far as true girlfriends go, I told him there really isn’t a specific age and that we’d discuss it when the time came. Those were my expert redirection skills a work.
Out of the Mouths of Babes
I admire my son’s honesty. I love that he asks what’s on his mind, regardless of how it sounds. In his world, there are no silly questions. And I hope that even if I don’t always have the perfect answer, that he’ll keep asking me. I will always answer him to the best of my ability because that’s what helps maintain open lines of communication. Our bond and his willingness to confide in me are something I cherish deeply.