Ahhhh…the beauty, the certainty of 20/20 hindsight. As my youngest nears the end of high school, I have been thinking about what allows kids to perform at their best and enjoy their four years to the fullest. What do I wish I had known as my kids turned 12 that would have helped them in getting ready for high school? If I had it to do again…
1. Do one thing well
I would make sure, if possible, that my child was above average at a sport, music, art or another activity. Not get-recruited-at-a-D1-school good, but get-picked-for-the-JV-team good. Part of high school is finding your place and that is much easier to do if you are selected for the orchestra or given a role in the school play. I know educators advocate the benefits of being well-rounded, but competence and accomplishment breed self-esteem and social well-being.
2. Sleep is an elixir
I would teach my kids that sleep is the elixir of the gods. It repairs sick bodies. It allows teens to perform better intellectually and athletically. It improves mood and helps maintain healthy weight. Teach your child to worship at the altar of an eight-hour night’s sleep and you have set them up for life.
3. Look away from the screen
I would work long and hard helping my child develop the ability to concentrate on books or art or anything but an electronic screen. Success in high school results from a level of concentration on the written word that can be challenging for a 14-year-old. I would make them read books, even if it meant tying them to a chair in order to do so.
4. Good food will always be good
I would give special attention to helping my kids develop good eating habits. I don’t mean organic food-kale-quinoa good eating habits, but the ability to resist soda and candy and cheesy fries. It is only their own will power and good eating habits stand between them and a weight problem.
5. Everyone needs a trip to the deep end
I would throw my child into the metaphoric deep end, more than once. Experiencing helplessness and frustration, the overwhelming feeling of wanting to give up, is something that is good for all of us, early and often. Too many kids do not experience this until high school. If you haven’t been tested and found out what you are made of, you haven’t lived.
6. Self-control is modeled, not taught
I would focus on impulse control, be it with regard to temper or sex or driving. Impulse control is taught by example and middle schoolers who spend far more time with their parents are watching closely. It is no coincidence that the kid who regularly gets a red card on the soccer field has a nutjob parent shrieking obscenities on the sidelines.
7. Body beautiful, take care
I would tell them that their body is theirs and it is beautiful and precious and the only one they get. How they treat it will have everything to do with how it functions. Teenagers think they are invincible and their body’s ability to repair itself is the envy of every adult. But it will not always be thus and they need to learn respect for their physical selves.
8. Get it together
I would focus heavily on organizational skills, and its twin, time management For some lucky kids this comes naturally and for others it is a huge uphill struggle. Engage in the struggle early while the stakes and complexity of tasks are lower.
9. Character is everything
Most important of all, the window in which to reach our kids on lessons about character and values can be shorter than we think. The middle years of childhood are a time when moral decisions – be it cheating in school or how to treat others – are all established. It is when many of the values our families hold dear need to be cemented into their beings. If I could do only one thing, if parenthood had been a one-dimensional activity, I would have focused on teaching lessons on character and values, recognizing how fast that opportunity would slip away.