Setting an Example
You have the greatest impact on your child’s life. Set a good example.
Kids learn by watching others, especially parents. Be the kind of person you want your teen to be. Talk to your teenager about your beliefs. Talk about what you expect of them. Most important is that you set a good example.
Children learn social skills, manners, respect and confidence just by watching their parents. They watch what you do and how you do it – whether it's eating, exercising, drinking, taking drugs, driving, smoking, or wearing a seatbelt. They also watch how you deal with anger (and other emotions) and how you treat other people. What they see will affect how they behave.
Research shows that parents' behavior has one of the biggest impacts on a teen's behavior. Research also shows that when parents are good role models, teens do better in life. They have better social skills, health habits, and coping skills. And they do better in school. 1
Eda LeShan, a family counselor and author of parenting books, says: "The only way to raise a decent human being is by being one." 2
Here are some examples of ways that parents can set good examples for teens.
Remember that nobody's perfect. If you smoke or use alcohol, talk to your kids about the mistakes that you made. Talk to them about how difficult it is to quit. They will understand that you don’t want them to make the same mistakes you did. They will respect you for being honest and for trying hard to quit.
Admit your mistakes. Children should know that it’s okay to make mistakes. But they also need to learn from mistakes. Show your teen how to do this by admitting your mistakes, apologizing, and talking about how you can avoid the same mistake next time.
Manage anger and avoid violence. Talk about your problems with the person you are angry with. By keeping your cool instead of getting really mad and possibly violent, you can set an example of patience and tolerance. This doesn’t mean you have to agree or never get angry, but talking about feelings (anger, for example) is a more effective solution than violence.
Be active and eat a healthy diet. Be active and With overweight rates rising in both teens and adults, it is important to keep your family active so that they develop healthy lifestyle habits. Do family activities that everyone enjoys (walking, biking, hiking, etc.) and eat meals together as often as possible. Eat fruits and vegetables everyday and limit fat (for example, fried foods) and sugar (for example, soda.) If you value your health, your teen will too.
Do community service with your kids. This teaches job skills and responsibility. It also puts kids in touch with good role models. It teaches them that they can make a difference by helping other people, and it builds self-confidence.
Get involved with your child’s school. This will show your child that education is important. Talk to them early on about going to college and about careers that might interest them. Join the parent association or volunteer to help with a school event.
Share your cultural identity and history with your teens. Talk to your child about their country’s history – the good and bad. Compare your culture to others. Talking about cultural differences will help your teen understand and respect others.
Talk about your beliefs. Be honest. Tell your child about why you do and think certain things. Explain that people have different beliefs and act in different ways. This will help your teen respect other peoples’ points of view and beliefs.
Be caring, fair, truthful, and responsible. Keep your promises to your kids, if you want them to keep their promises to you. This will set an example they will follow. Tell the truth, if you want them to tell the truth.
Remember, your teen is always watching and learning from you. Show your teen that you are responsible for your actions and they will learn to be responsible for their actions, too.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services administration
Common sense: Parent’s center: Be a role model.
1 Simpson, A.R. (1997). Raising Teens: A Synthesis of Research and a Foundation for Action. Boston: Center for Health Communication, Harvard School of Public Health. pp. 59.
2 LeShan, E. The best-kept secret about discipline. Parents, March 1988.
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