Santa Monica was a sleepy town when I grew up there. That was a very good thing. My parents were hair stylists (yes, my dad, age 84, still cuts my hair…and straight too!). They owned a small hair salon. While I didn’t grow up with a lot of material things, it was all around me. Somehow I developed an immunity to it. For example to this day, I still wear some clothes over 10 years old. I have 19 year old comfy sweatpants from my grandpa. When it gets cold (by L.A. standards), I pull out a 30 year old thick, cozy sweater that I bought when I worked at Nordstrom department store in college. My philosophy is, “If it works and still looks good, then…..” (Don’t worry – my wife Selina has been sure to keep me presentable in public). I drove my ancient Saab until someone rear-ended me. My wraparound style sunglasses are 17 years old. The challenge is: how to instill solid values in our girls while raising them in Los Angeles – the hub of excess and materialism? A friend of mine in Malibu told me that when her son turned 16 years old he and insisted on getting a new Porsche as his first car. I said, “What did you do?” She sympathetically said, “So many other kids at Malibu High School have new fancy cars, so we got it for him.” I thought to myself, “ARE YOU FREAKIN’ KIDDING ME????!!!!” When kids get what they want, how can they learn to be motivated as teens and adults to work for ANYTHING? They can’t. These kids feel entitled. It’s a massive problem with a lot of kids in the entire U.S., not just L.A. And it’s NOT getting any better.
As a parent, you need to have a strong will, strong enough to ignore peer-pressure. In high school, peer pressure was to smoke pot, get drunk, and perhaps run naked across the football field during the Homecoming game (actually that last one was for the class clown). As a parent, peer-pressure now is 1) to over-schedule your kids depriving them of “free time”, 2) honor many of their desires for ‘stuff’, 3) spoil them in affluence, and 4) allow them hours of “electronics time” each day. What is often sadly missing is denying them certain things that they have not earned. Let’s face it: when kids grow up, life can be tough and cruel. Certainly no one is just going to hand your children the “keys to the kingdom” even if they grew up in so-and-so neighborhood and went to Posh School. While our daughters are in private school, it takes a lot of CONSCIOUS EFFORT to keep them grounded with solid values – that’s really my #1 job, not being an eye surgeon. Absent that effort, it would be a disservice to them. “Prepare the child for the path. DO NOT prepare the path for the child” as an educator at our school says.
I leave you with two parenting nuggets: Natural Consequences. My parents raised me and my two younger brothers with this philosophy. You need to allow the consequences of your child’s action or inaction to play out (as long as it’s not life-threatening). That is how she/he learns. Example: let’s say your child refuses to come to the dinner table when you call him. You first give a warning, “It’s time for dinner. This is the one and only warning. If you don’t come now then, you are showing you are not capable of eating dinner tonight and it might be over when you come here.” Then you eat dinner and finish and clean up. Your child then arrives ready to eat and says, “Where’s dinner?” You calmly reply, “Oh, dinner’s over. You’ll have another chance tomorrow.” Expect a lot of fussing, perhaps even an Oscar-worthy saliva-spewing-screaming-like-fingernails-getting-removed-on-the-floor-tantrum. You MUST remain calm, keep cleaning up then walk away. No audience, no tantrum (FYI – no healthy child ever died of missing one dinner, so don’t feel guilty). The classic parenting book that I follow is Children: The Challenge by Dr. Rudolf Dreikurs which my parents followed, too. It and its revisions have stood the test of time.
The second nugget is: Love is spelled T-I-M-E. “Quality time” is as real as unicorns. What matters is being ACTIVELY present during the time with your children (not checking texts on your smartphone). The more time you spend WITH THEM, the better FOR THEM. Otherwise your kids won’t be there for you when you are old. Google search the lyrics of Cat Stevens’ song “Cat’s in the Cradle”. It’s incredibly insightful and timeless. (The above tips from Zig Ziglar). I take Monday afternoons off from the office to pick up my daughters from school. I coach their basketball team on the weekends. I also love snuggling with them at night before they fall asleep and read to them. They come to the office on weekends to help. They are growing up fast and my window of influence seems to grow smaller each year, so I know that I need to make the most of it. You too can keep your children grounded in the midst of ‘excess’. It will serve them well for the rest of their lives.
Keeping your children grounded is an investment in their future and yours too.