Why YOUR Behavior Matters SO Much to the Youth in Your Life

If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, then you are probably a little tired of hearing “be a role model.” It’s usually our first go-to with any behavior we want our teens to adopt. We’ve mentioned it for encouraging creativity, tolerance, healthy eating, exercise, compassion, adaptability, positive stress management, healthy relationships, honesty, money management… okay, you probably get the point.

We say it for good reason! Research continually demonstrates that the behavior of the important adults in a teen’s life has more impact on their own behavior than any other factor. Studies consistently show that parents are the most important role models for their children – peers and media have influence, but not as much as parents. Research also demonstrates that children are incredibly observant about their parents, teachers, coaches, and other important adults and learn to behave in the same ways regardless of what those adults say. In other words, your actions speak louder than your words. What you do guides a child’s behavior, attitudes and beliefs, now and in the long term.

Modeling is important because it is the primary way that children learn the values they will carry for life. While peers tend to influence a child’s likes and dislikes, parents tend to influence a child’s values. Many a parent has moaned how their teen never listens to them, but you can be absolutely positive that he or she is watching everything you do. It is completely ineffective to insist your teenager behave responsibly while you make irresponsible choices yourself. Not only does it teach them the opposite of what you want, it can offend teens and cause them to see you as hypocritical, which is something teens tend to loathe.

When it comes to children learning lessons, be sure you practice what you preach. Think through what you want to role model for your teen. Consider these questions honestly:

  • Is your life full of positivity, passion and purpose, or does your teen see you constantly worried or complaining about your job, friends, family, etc.?
  • Do you practice good anger management and conflict resolution techniques with other people, or does your teen see you withdraw, stomp your feet, slam doors, or yell?
  • Do you take good care of your body, or does your teen see you eat junk food, smoke cigarettes or not exercise?
  • Do you use medication and alcohol with care, or does your teen see you use prescriptions in a way they were not prescribed or self-medicate a bad day with excess alcohol?
  • Do you pay bills on time and live within your means, or does your teen see you overindulge and live in debt?
  • Are you respectful to others, or does your teen see you criticize the way others talk, dress, or act?
  • Do you gossip?
  • Do you lie? Perhaps telling the cashier your 12-year-old child is only 11 to get a discount or telling the PTA President you’re busy the day of the bake sale when you’re actually free?
  • Do you model compassion, caring for other people or volunteering your time?
  • Do you demonstrate an ability and desire to solve problems, or does your teen see you fearful, stressing at every problem like it is a major crisis?
  • Do you demonstrate a growth mindset? Do you view mistakes as opportunities to learn? Or do you avoid anything new or beat yourself up when you fail?
  • Do you model a balanced life, taking time for yourself, your family and your commitments?

These questions may be hard to consider, but you are showing your child every day how to behave. You need to be honest about what you are demonstrating. Although you may think there are certain gray areas where it’s appropriate to bend the rules a little, teenagers tend to think in black and white and view this rule-bending as hypocritical. Youth are very sensitive to mixed messages and inconsistent boundaries and will reject both as clear signs of parental hypocrisy.

In addition, role modeling is more effective when you spend more quality time with your children. Humans don’t learn a lesson in one moment. We learn things by repetition. So, when parents explain or model something once, their children may notice it, but it quickly fades away or may be too difficult to grasp completely. The constant repetition of an idea, and understanding the reasoning behind it (don’t forget to point out pros and cons of following certain values) is what ingrains a concept in our value system.

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