I don’t need to get into the lurid details of Miley Cyrus’ performance at the MTV awards. You’ve probably seen some of it already or at least heard about it. If you need some background info, you can read about the whole incident here.
I probably would have tuned it all out myself like so much of the disturbing junk our culture is fixated with these days except for this . . .
Miley Cyrus has a place in my heart.
Perhaps it’s the delight my kids took in watching her as Hannah Montana . . .
Perhaps it’s because I had so much hope for her growing into a much-needed role model with her powerful song, The Climb, an all-time favorite of mine.
But honestly, I think it cuts deeper.
Because when I look into her garishly painted face and beyond the too short, too-tight outfits and lewd gestures, I see a child who reminds me of myself growing up . . . and too many other girls I see today struggling with what it means to be a girl.
Years back, when my daughter was 5 years old, a friend of my parents pointed out with an all-knowing air that it doesn’t matter how many values you impart to your children and how strict you are as a parent, “Everyone has problems with their kids when they become teenagers.”
That prediction hung over my head like a dark cloud. As I’m sure it does for many of you as well.
We’re told that it’s an inevitable rite of passage that our children will end up rebelling against us when they grow older.
We’re told we’ll end up walking a tightrope during the teenage years – terrified of falling off either on the side of the authoritarian who creates an unbridgeable gulf between us and our children. Or falling off on the other side of complacency and watching our children lose themselves in a morass of drugs and hormone craziness.
Well, let me tell you that hasn’t happened here.
Our daughter is now 16 – a self-assured, beautiful, dignified young lady. Strong (track champion and able to take her Dad down in a single jiu jitsu move). Hardworking and smart (high honors despite late nights struggling with honors Algebra II).
She’s barely on Facebook (only for communication w/ her soccer team), she barely uses her phone (it’s often forgotten at home). Every evening after soccer practice she’s eager to talk with us about her day, school and the world.
This summer, when she wasn’t working as a lifeguard (the favorite of all the 4-year-old boys), she was helping us on the farm, mountain biking with us or simply enjoying the quiet of her own thoughts and drawing.
She has a few good friends at school. But she prefers to stay home on the weekends, getting some much needed downtime after a week filled with peers, soccer practice and homework.
I’m not saying this to boast – although I admire her and take pride in my role in who she’s become.
I’m saying this to give you hope. What happened to Miley Cyrus is not inevitable.
But hope is one thing . . . I don’t sell just hope alone.
Knowing how to turn your hope into reality is another.
Unless we take our jobs seriously as parents, this is the direction our daughters (and sons) are headed.
It’s up to us to shift this path so many children are on. So – based on experience in the trenches – here’s what you can do about it:
1. Spend Time With Your Children – Lots Of It
There’s a lot of talk about quality time.
But here’s the bare-boned truth: Nothing replaces quantity time.
Your children need you. No one else can replace you in this. Quantity time builds trust and familiarity. It helps your children understand that – no matter what – you’re there for them.
Simply put, when you spend more time with your kids, they know they’re important to you.
When you’re there for your children, they don’t feel the desperation I see in Mylie to get attention. And to feel loved through that attention. Your children know they are loved. As they grow older, that sense of love will allow them to build relationships based on mutual respect and appreciation. Not need and abuse.
2. Guide Your Children
These days, everyone advises not to impose yourself on your kids – let them find their own way. If you try to teach them too much, they’ll rebel.
The world of parenting blogs is filled with tricks and reward systems to get your kids to eat vegetables or do their homework. Popular advice columns tell you to as much as possible let your kids figure things out for themselves. Give them choices
Even worse, many parents only want to be friends with their children. In an interview with radio host Glenn Beck, Mylie Cyrus’ dad reported he never told her to do her chores. He left that to her mother. He just wanted to be her friend, he said. Someone she could always turn to to talk to.
I had that kind of parenting growing up and it left me narrowly averting disaster.
Listen, if you were on a ship and a storm blew up, would you want the captain of the ship to tell you you’re in charge – you’ll figure things out? Would you want him to tell you he’s taking his decades of experience, jumping into the only lifeboat and leaving? Would you want that?
No, parenting is about being an authority. Your job is to help your children develop a compass by giving them your wisdom and experience. My husband, C, is tireless in this work. He seizes every opportunity to talk with our children about their behavior, the world and life. I’m learning to follow his leadership and do the same.
It’s not always comfortable. It’s not always convenient. And often enough, it’s not always well-received at first.
But it changes everything in how our children see life, see themselves and how close they feel to us. When it comes down to it, our children understand it’s another act of love – wanting to help them navigate through life.
Warning: You can’t do this very well, however, if you’re a stranger to your child. Again, quantity time trumps everything.
And here’s another secret: Quality time usually springs up at the most inconvenient, unplanned moments.
Even more importantly: Quality time isn’t just feel-good moments. It’s also those tough, uncomfortable times of conflict when you need to lay down the law.
3. Build Real Self-Esteem
Despite the popular notion, self-esteem is not simply built from saying “good job” multiple times. Kids know when praise is hollow.
Don’t shirk telling them when they’re not doing as well as they can. Don’t hide their failings from them.
The best thing you can give your child is 1.) The courage to look at themselves honestly; 2.) The ability to figure out how to change things they don’t like; and 3) The discipline to implement this plan step by step.
Self-esteem comes from taking on scary challenges where you’re worried you’ll not do well – where you may have even failed multiple times before. Self esteem comes when you use your will, spirit, smarts, skills and strength to finally overcome this challenge. Or at least feel good about how close you get due to your diligent effort.
Any doubts about this one? Check out some of the mortifying experiences of the poor souls on American Idol who think they can sing because their mother didn’t tell them otherwise.
Certainly praise your children generously, hug them and celebrate. But make it real by coaching them honestly on the other side of things.
Again, you can only do this without creating distance between you and your child if you by spend quantity time together.
4. Get Them Active.
I don’t care if your child has two left feet and you’ve never touched a ball in your life . . . go out together and get moving!
Physical activity helps smooth out the teenage years and beyond for many different reasons.
- First, no matter what you’re doing and how good you are at it, physical activity simply changes your chemistry to make you feel more confident and happy. At least half a dozen studies show it is the absolutely best antidepressant out there.
- Second, it eats up excess hormones and diminishes the burgeoning sexual curiosity that comes with teenagerhood. Let me just note that my daughter is so tired from soccer and track each day, she doesn’t have time for boys. She told me this herself!
- Third, exercise helps you manage stress better and even defuse it.
- Fourth, it doesn’t hurt to feel good about your body because you’ve got muscles.
And when you make fitness part of your family life, you make it easier for your kids to stay active as they get older. And the sooner you start, the better. It simply becomes part of their culture. Better yet, once again, you’ve snagged more time together as a family. Quantity time can’t be beat.
A Heartfelt Mama’s Wish For All The Mileys Out There
The part of me that struggled as a teenager . . . the part of me that sees what good parenting can do thanks to my own daughter . . . just wants to hug Miley and all the girls like her out there wearing too short shorts and piercing their belly buttons instead of playing soccer.
I want to tell them “You are beautiful, valuable beyond belief. Full of smarts, strength, skills and the potential to do all kinds of amazing things. Love yourself for these qualities inside of you that have nothing to do with how much skin you’re showing. Challenge yourself. Work on yourself. Make these qualities shine . . . And someone will love you for them too”
“Love yourself and respect yourself enough that you won’t settle for anything less from someone else. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done – what mistakes or embarrassing situations you’ve put yourself in – you can change everything now and start to live with integrity. Those mistakes will quickly turn into lessons you can further transform into wisdom and grace.”
“Bottom line, you are loved.”
Unfortunately, I can’t give Miley these words or a hug. Nor can I say all I want to to the girls my daughter grew up with who are no longer playing soccer because they’re too busy texting boys, experimenting with sex, drugs and alcohol and going to parties.
But all of us moms and dads can say these words to our children. Do it with your words. Do it with your actions. Do it with your time.
Did this hit home? Do you have a perspective or tactic to share in this challenge we face as parents? Come join us on Facebook and share your thoughts.