Parenting as a Leadership Function


The simple truth today is that adolescents more than ever need firm leadership. Children need adults they respect and trust—adults who speak up and step in.

You cannot provide leadership if you are reactive and constantly responding to crises. When you react, your child has taken the lead and you are following, and your child, someone with little life experience and precious little wisdom, winds up calling the shots. In crucial areas, you, as parent, need to be the shot-caller.

Being in charge

If you want your child to develop strength of character, you have to demonstrate it and model it. There is no way around that. If you give in to the notion that because your child is now an adolescent you can no longer provide guidance, you set in motion a powerful, negative self-fulfilling prophecy. What you have decided is true, becomes true because of your actions, or the lack thereof.

This creates three consequences: (1) children experience loss and disappointment at your weakness and the vacuum of leadership, (2) feel rage at being abandoned, and (3) cease to expect strength from you, other adults or themselves.

Lack of leadership generates contempt, and contempt, rebellion. Rage for being abandoned results in ever more provocative behavior designed to bring a parental response that would restore you as persons in charge. When adolescents cease expecting internal strength from parents, it leads them to develop and express less strength.

Our children are keenly sensitive. Behavior that we as parents and a community accept, tolerate and expect is what children tend to enact. Toleration is permission and invitation. When parents abdicate leadership and look to their children for cues for how to proceed, they cheat children of guidance and create a climate that engenders the anger. Where we expect negative behavior, we authorize and foster it, and prevent our children from reaching their highest potential.

Toward leadership

“Parenting by being a pal” needs to be replaced by parenting in which parents take unpopular but necessary stands with their children because they truly are wiser and more knowledgeable and unafraid to take a leadership role. This is the way to foster the development of our children’s potential and the way for parents to reach the best expression of their role.

When parents accept from their child behavior that is destructive and self-defeating, they unwittingly sell themselves and their children short. Underachievement, for example, is neither typical nor normal, and it is clearly unacceptable to parents interested in the best for their children. Though it is all too common, it is not inevitable. It is a problem that is serious, but one for which there is a solution. The idea that underachievers are hopeless cases or, alternatively, simply exhibiting typical behavior, is just untrue.

Though our children are beyond our literal control on a moment-to-moment basis, they are not beyond our influence. And even if adolescent rebellion and underachievement were typical behavior, the question would still remain, “Do we have to accept it?” After all, “typical” does not mean “natural” or “inevitable.”

Don’t write off your child. Take a leadership role.