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What Do We Expect of Our Kids?

You’ve surely heard of the college admissions scandal. Wealthy and famous parents cheated to get their children into good colleges. Now they’re in big trouble, as they ought to be.

Everyone knows it’s wrong. “I wouldn’t do that,” we say.

But when it comes to placing expectations on our children, we should take a hard look in the mirror. Are we really that much different? Our society urges us to do anything in our power to have “successful” kids who “achieve” something. What are they really achieving, and for whom?

We have a generation of high schoolers now going to college because it’s what is expected of them. That same generation is pursuing graduate school because, why not?

Never mind that the trades, not four-year degrees, are perhaps more appropriate for many kids who might be more handy thinking on their feet than with a spreadsheet. And you know what? That’s okay. In fact, the kid who takes the much-maligned road to become a plumber or electrician will probably earn more, faster, than most of his peers who graduate with a boatload of student loan debt. And will have more to show for it.

But those kids with the useless degrees aren’t totally at fault; the die was cast for many of them long ago. 

Ever been to a child’s soccer or baseball game? You know those folks who seem to be so focused with everything their child is doing wrong that they can’t let the kid have fun?

On the other end of the spectrum, perhaps you’ve seen parents who don’t want to be seen as uncool, so they go and buy their young teenagers copious amounts of alcohol and throw wild parties.

And of course, there are those who – as in the admissions scam – place some academic or financial goal at the top of a ladder and force their children, like trained monkeys, to climb it at all costs.

As parents, we can try to cram our kids into the expectations society tells us we should have. Many do. Or, we can do something different.

Maybe, just maybe, we could focus on teaching kids who to be instead of what to be. What an idea.

Proverbs 22:6 says: “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.”

What if we focused on character more than charisma, morality more than money, loving others more than ladder-climbing?

What if we developed kids who knew how to interact with the world, go out and work hard, and yes, be academically successful – but instead of making these things ends in themselves, they were the result of instilling lifelong values?

Because here’s the thing.

When life really beats you down, and you’re in the heart of the storm, none of the things we’ve earned, achieved, or won really stick around. No, in those moments, it’s God, you, and the people who really care about you.

All three of those things are determined by what a child learns growing up. If a child is taught to have a relationship with God, and sees his parents acting the same at home as they do in church, he probably will keep that faith for a lifetime, leaning on it especially when times are tough.

If a child knows who he is, is told from a young age that he is loved and valued, and shown how to be a person of character by his parents and other authority figures, he will be less likely to question his worth and fall into despair searching for himself, when really, he’s just looking for the love he didn’t get in childhood.

If a child sees how the important people in his life treat others, and learns the value of good friendships and seeking out wisdom, learning to listen more than talk, and putting others before himself, he will develop incredible friends who would do anything for him, because character attracts character.

And if a child learns these things, he will end up checking most of the other boxes people worry about. 

He’ll want to excel at academics because learning will be a joy in itself, not a means to an end, and because anything worth doing is worth doing well.

He’ll want to be financially stable not so that he can drive a fancy car or live in a tony neighborhood, but because he’ll want to provide for his family and help others in need.

He’ll want to be involved in the world – but in ways that reflect the kind of person he is, not the kind of person he wants to be seen as by others.

If our primary expectations of our kids are that they’re good and decent people who love God and love others, you know what? They’ll probably turn out alright.

No cheating required.

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