News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mark Bennett Opinion

June 2, 2013

MARK BENNETT: Commencement Advice

As teens pick up their diplomas, another generation begins their walk

TERRE HAUTE — Today’s high school commencement speakers should repeat their speeches in hospital delivery rooms in the months ahead.

Advice given to 18-year-olds entering adulthood helps.

Advice given to their parents, 18 years earlier, could have produced an even greater impact on the futures of the Class of 2013.

Graduates of Vigo County high schools likely will hear Churchill’s “never, never give up” quote. (Actually, Churchill said, “Never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense,” but let’s not digress.) Wise words, indeed, for teenagers. Imagine, though, the power of their folks being reminded to “never, never give up.”

A parent can provide the strongest influence on a young life. Being human, we parents stumble through 70- or 80-something years on Earth, hoping to shape our kids for the better, despite our mistakes. For those who’ve made it to the transition point of high school commencement, today represents a moment to celebrate and exhale, relieved yet anxious.

As the orchestras play “Pomp and Circumstance” over and over this afternoon and evening, pause to consider the Class of 2031, too. Based on recent birth rates, approximately 1,300 babies will be born this year in Vigo County. Some will attend local schools, while others will be enrolled in surrounding counties. Picture those infants, squirming in their mother’s or father’s lap, filling the rows of a high school auditorium, staring at you, the guest speaker standing at the podium.

In 18 years, those babies will be the wearing caps and gowns. What advice would you offer to their parents now?

Consider this collection of seven suggestions from a variety of sources …

Eat a meal together daily — A four-course, Martha Stewart-approved spread isn’t necessary. Delivered pizzas and salads work, too. The point is to gather the family to eat and talk. The results are significant, as a recent project by the Purdue University Center for Families shows. Kids perform better in school. They’re less likely to try risky behaviors. They develop stronger social skills, eat healthier and build a connection with their family. Make family meals — four or more days a week — a priority, even if the location is a Burger King before gymnastics and soccer practices.

Teach kids empathy — Reinforce to them the need to understand someone else’s situation and experience that person’s feelings. They’ll learn to realize their actions have consequences. A report from the University of California at Berkeley calls empathy education the key answer to a three-decade cultural trend of materialistic and narcissistic lifestyles rooted in the “greed is good” 1980s. Model to your children the ability to walk a mile in others’ shoes.

Read Proverbs — Whether you’re a spiritual person or not, this biblical book contains reminders and guidance that can benefit any parent. It’s insightful and humbling. This passage from its 12th chapter serves as a classic example: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel.” Great stuff. Refer to it as you ponder the right steps to take with your kids, and yourself.

Strengthen your family’s core — Kids born to unmarried parents are statistically more likely to experience family instability, academic troubles and emotional problems, and face a greater probability of their mother and father splitting up, according to the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project. Yet, such situations have become increasingly common; 48 percent of U.S. births are to unmarried parents. Bringing a child into the world should involve preparation for that kid’s future, and having married parents helps the baby’s prospects.

Show them how to date — Someday, that baby will be a teenager, ready to date. If that youngster has seen Mom and Dad go out together on weekly date nights, they’ll better understand how to treat another person. Regular date nights prove especially valuable to the fragile relationships of married couples who haven’t taken the important step of engaging in civic or religious activities in their community, University of Virginia research showed. Date nights help parents and, thus, their kids; etch them into your schedule.

Walk with your kids — The correlation between exercise and academic success is well documented, including in a 2009 report cited by the National Institute of Health. That doesn’t mean a child has to get immersed in organized sports. Instead, take a walk with your kid three or four days a week, a few blocks around the neighborhood or a few laps around the mall. Let them see you sweat. Talk as you go.

Take responsibility — If your child is struggling in math, ask yourself how you can help the youngster improve. Likewise, every kid needs character training; be their role model. Resist handing all of the responsibilities of giving your child an education and a solid moral compass to their school. Show them. Help them.

In the meantime, between now and 2031, keep a few mental notes. A young parent-to-be might ask your advice.

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

 

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