If I had a dollar for every time my Dad said, “It builds character,” I would be a millionaire by now. Merely typing the phrase evokes an eye roll from my 13-year-old self. I can hear him now, calling my sisters and me downstairs, saying, “Girls, grab the butter knives and go pick the weeds.” We didn’t dare argue, but I’m sure our unenthused faces were crystal clear, because he usually followed with, “It builds character.” And we know many teenagers are seriously concerned about their character. I must mention that we lived on a dirt road in Soldotna, Alaska; weeds were our front yard. It wasn’t as if the task could ever be finished. I’m sure you can see our perturbed faces now.
Had he been a Dad in the 60’s, this torture may have been commonplace, but this was the 80’s and 90’s! Get real. Didn’t he know kids ran the house now? He never got that memo.
Oh, the countless times I ran to my room and put my head under my pillow screaming, “I hate him, I hate him, I hate my life!!!!!” in the most dramatic of fashions but certainly not loud enough for him to hear. He had zero sympathy for teenage angst. Now that I’m in my thirties (cringe), I can laugh at most of my Dad’s parenting skills. I won’t ever agree with all of them, but one thing I will agree with is that they definitely built character.
Your character is made up of experiences that have a great influence on your life. They are experiences that you’ll never forget. They are the moments you endured the unimaginable. They are the experiences of which you were terrified but completed. They are the times of your greatest humiliation, your biggest failures and your greatest achievements. They are the experiences that are completely individual to you that make up how you navigate through life.
Here is my short list of character-defining experiences as a child:
- Climbing Flattop at 7 years old. (It may as well been Mt. Everest with how proud I was.)
- Starting at 7 years old, I flew by myself twice a year between Alaska and Las Vegas because my parents were divorced.
- Being teased and called a “beaver” because of my buckteeth.
- Watching my aunt and uncle lose their 3 year-old son. (Talk about gaining a rich perspective on life at 9 years-old.)
- Being responsible enough to get myself to school every morning since 4th grade.
- Sharing a very small bedroom with 2 of my sisters, in our teenage years nonetheless. (I’ll definitely be that parent that says, “You’re lucky; when I was your age, I didn’t get my own room!”)
- Getting my first job at Taco Bell at 14 years old, and rollerblading there and back all summer long. (Will someone please make rollerblades cool again? Anyone? Bueller?)
- Failing the test for my permit 6 times. (I just admitted that.)
- Attending 4 elementary schools, 3 junior high schools and 2 high schools (Being the new girl in the lunchroom every year is humbling. So is eating in the bathroom.)
- Not even coming close to making varsity basketball my junior year. I was the only junior on JV. (I sucked.)
- My first boyfriend cheated on me my senior year. (At least I’ll know that my daughter truly does believe her life is over if this happens to her. I’ll be very empathetic until she figures out it’s a huge blessing.)
- Working everyday after school at a flower shop until I paid my Stepdad back $800 for a fender bender. (But, but, it’s my Senior Yearrrrr!)
- Completing the admission packet to CSU by myself. And, the subsequent moment I opened the acceptance letter.
I don’t write posts unless they have some timely significance to me. So, let me share with you what has me consumed with character, or the lack thereof, in our culture. I was watching the news and learned of Sheryl Sandberg’s (COO of Facebook) campaign “Ban Bossy.” This campaign advocates for us to ban the word "bossy" when being used towards women. The goal is to promote and strengthen women in leadership from a young age, suggesting that the negative connotation of the word “bossy” holds them back from taking a stance in a leadership role. Sigh. The video seen here has many well-known, affluent women asking you to ban the word bossy. Even the First Lady, Michelle Obama, is using the #banbossy hashtag in her tweets.
I must say, I do applaud Sheryl’s stance for women in leadership and her revere for stay-at-home moms. I also understand the idea behind ban bossy is to promote young girls to not be afraid of leadership roles. Yet, once again I feel like our culture is headed in the wrong direction. Ban Bossy is headed down the same road as “everyone gets a ribbon” and “everyone should make the team.” Ughh. What is happening? Do we not see the negative consequences this has on our kids?
We are telling our children that if we don’t ban hurtful words or experiences, we can’t rise to the top. Ironically, the “Ban Bossy” campaign consists of a slew of powerful, wealthy women who became quite successful after being called bossy and facing adversity. Come on Beyonce, I’m pretty sure after the original Destiny’s Child broke up and they spread a bunch of nasty things about you, the least being that you’re bossy, I’m pretty sure you turned it around and became, uhhh, freakin’ Beyonce. Don’t act like you weren’t preaching to us that “I’m a survivor, I’m not gonna give up,” and how it made you all stronger. Because that’s what adversity does: it makes you stronger. You had it right the first time, B.
We can’t send the message that if we eliminate all negative factors in our world, we can rise to success quicker. In fact, we all know it’s the opposite. When we look at the biographies of the most successful athletes, journalists, musicians, comedians and scholars, what do they talk about? How their path to success was pain free and paved with gold? NO! It was the pain, sweat, and tears that helped them rise to glory. It was the hardship and struggle that built a unique, remarkable character. How about “Embrace Bossy” instead of “Ban Bossy?” I get it, the latter rolls of the tongue a little better, but it’s the wrong message.
Folks, we are rearing children in a society that doesn’t demand personal accountability and responsibility. We are rearing children in a culture that does everything possible to not make a child feel disappointed or sad. God forbid a child has to feel pain. I think we are forgetting that pain builds character. Do we want a generation of wussies and victims, or do we want a generation of capable and successful children who know they CAN because we gave them the tools?
Here are 6 tips to build character in your child:
1. Stop Rescuing:
It’s ok to let your children fail. Let their time in your home be where they learn and understand that their decisions determine their consequences. Let them try, especially if you think they will fail. Don’t strip them of that opportunity. If they broke it, make them fix it. Even if the big dance is tonight, that’s life. That lesson will stay for them much longer than the memories of the dance.
2. Let them feel pain:
It’s so much easier said than done. It’s your baby. You would do anything to remove a shred of discomfort. But that’s what builds them up. Let them feel it. Let them learn and reflect and be uncomfortable. These are the years they need to learn how to adapt to difficulties because these years are nothing compared to losing a job at 45 with 3 kids. They will get teased. They will lose someone they love. They will get their heart broken. They will have an unfair coach or teacher. Let them live through it. Don’t fix it; let them live it.
3. Make them respect authority: (No matter who’s right)
The hardest part of my childhood was not being able to argue with my Dad, or any adult for that matter. I couldn’t tell him how unfair or mean he was acting because “What I say goes.” I hated that line. Sometimes it was gut-wrenching how badly I wanted to say something. This lead to many journal entries that I wrote to him, secretly hoping he would read. But this also taught me restraint. It gave me the ability to reflect internally without blurting out with emotion, a skill that is very helpful all throughout life, especially the workplace. It’s not that I never say anything now; I am just far more calculating and effective. I take my time, reflect, and am deliberate with my words. You don’t hear many parents say, “Respect your elders,” anymore. It’s a shame.
4. Be adventurous:
Let your children explore. Take them on hikes, canoe rides and crazy road trips! Get them away from the video games and smart phones. What level they make it to in Call of Duty or how many friends they have on Facebook will pale in comparison to the experiences and the memories they made with their parents camping in the woods. Have them be responsible for cooking their own meal for the family. Build their confidence even if you hate eating eggshells in your omelets. This is where the good stuff happens and solidifies the importance of human connection in their lives.
5. Stop micromanaging:
Think about the times as a child where you secured your biggest boosts of confidence. They were moments when you went out on your own and completed something that you didn’t think you could or that you had never tried before. Don’t let your child feel incapable by micromanaging their every task. I was at the museum the other day, and this mother was on top of her 4 year-old shouting, “Be careful of that! Watch the baby! Make sure your shoe is tied! Get away from that; it’s dangerous!” (Note: NOTHING was dangerous) I wanted to scream. I thought, “Poor guy, he probably doesn’t think he can do anything without his Mom giving him a play-by-play." Or he has completely drowned her out by now. If you don’t have faith in them, how do you expect them to have faith in themselves?
6. Remember the importance of character:
Character sets you apart more than the way you look, your education, or where you come from. Character defines YOU. As you are parenting, you must remember how very important it is. When you drop your baby off at their college dorm, that’s it. You can't stop people from calling them names or prevent any bad experiences from coming their way. It’s the character you help build in them as children that will shape how they deal with all hardships in their life. Life is unpredictable. Our reactions to life are everything. Our character navigates our reactions.
Lastly on my short list, there were moments where I felt scared and proved I was capable. Or failed miserably because I knew I didn't try hard enough. Or tried hard enough and succeeded. But no matter the experience, I learned I was in control of my life. I was responsible for my outcomes and for my happiness. Even if I wasn't in control of what was happening around me, I got to learn that my reaction greatly impacted the outcome of the situation.
Making sure our children never hear a harmful word or face a difficult challenge makes them weak and sends the message that they get to control what life throws their way. It’s our job as parents to prepare them for life, NOT to protect them from life. In other words: if you Ban Pain, you Ban Character.
What do you think of the Ban Bossy campaign? Let us know your thoughts by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org