It makes sense that a person with self-respect – having an accurate view of one’s strengths and weaknesses without overinflating either at the expense of others – will be more likely to do the right thing even when it’s hard and no one else is looking. After all, if I don’t like myself, I won’t care about doing what’s right because I probably won’t believe I can. But, conversely, if I think and feel positively about myself, I’ll more likely believe I can do the right thing, and I’ll be willing to work at it even when doing so isn’t easy.
But how do we help our children develop a healthy, balanced sense of self?
There are, of course, many elements to that answer. But I believe one important – though rather counter-cultural – idea is to aim to insure that our kids don’t become peer-dependent – i.e., heavily involved with other children as their main or primary influences.
It’s not that we should isolate our kids from other children; that wouldn’t be healthy or possible even for the most rural of homeschool families, let alone for those whose kids attend a school of some sort. Quality kid-to-kid friendships are important and positive. But it’s unavoidably true simply by virtue of their age and natural lack of maturity that “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child” (Proverbs 22.15). Thus, when kids are peer-dependent – if they come to rely on the approval of other (immature) kids – they cannot develop an internalized sense of self-respect that propels them toward a habit of doing the right thing. So part of our job as parents is to monitor and mediate our children’s friendships.
This is undeniably easier for homeschool families. Because homeschoolers must be more intentional about insuring that their kids do have time with non-sibling peers, it’s relatively easy for them to make sure their kids spend time with those who influence them positively and to appropriately limit that time so they don’t become dependent on the opinions of their peers. But it’s possible for those whose kids attend school as well even though they cannot know every other child with whom their kids interact; I’ve seen many of my friends do this very well so I know it can be done.
If you’re in that position, your task is to be intentional with the time you do have with your kids. Choose to positively engage with them after school and on weekends so they want to spend time with you and continue to see you – their parents – as the most important people in their lives. Limit time your kids have with peers outside of school, not eliminating it, but, rather, making sure the peers with whom they spend time are positive influences and that time with friends doesn’t supersede family time.
For various reasons, our culture perpetuates an unfortunate, harmful myth that kids should grow away from their families. However, it’s possible to enable kids to grow up into mature adulthood in strong connection with their families – and doing so actually facilitates the development of full maturity in regards to self-respect and other character qualities. Taking measures to help our kids have healthy friendships without becoming dependent on same-age peers is part of that process.
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