Does it take a family or a village to raise a child? This question became the subject of great controversy during the 1996 presidential election with the publication of Hillary Clinton’s well-known book, It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us.
But somewhere between the two extremes, there’s a simple truth that when the family AND “village” is dedicated to helping the next generation succeed, everybody wins. As parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, mentors and educators, we all have our part in the process.
Of course, parents have the largest role and the largest stake in raising happy, well-adjusted children. We want our children and teens to make smart choices and avoid trouble. The single most effective way to bring that to pass is to concentrate on helping our kids build a strong foundation.
The nonprofit organization, Search Institute, describes this foundation as being made up of 40 essential building blocks, which they call developmental assets. These assets are the good things that children and teens need in their lives to grow up happy and well-adjusted. The more developmental assets our children experience, the less likely they are to engage in high-risk activities such as drinking, violence, drug use, and sexual activity, and the more likely they are to succeed in school, help others, and overcome adversity. Begin building that foundation today.
Learn about Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets.
Your child’s first support system is his/her family. Is there a sense of warmth and unconditional love in your home, where your child feels safe coming to you for support, even when he or she is in trouble?
How’s your family communication? Make sure to look for and talk about the good things. Celebrate your child’s and your family’s strengths. If your child seems bent on getting into trouble and that’s all you ever talk about, you’re reinforcing and even encouraging more negative behavior.
Set clear boundaries. Children need clear rules and boundaries at home, in school, and in their neighborhood. When they break those rules, they should expect consistent consequences that fit the nature of the infraction. As adults, we expect consequences for our actions. When we allow our children to plead their way out of experiencing the consequence of their actions, we insulate them from the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.
Spend time doing things together as a family. When is the last time you hiked through a state park together, or just spent time together away from the TV and other distractions? Gardening can be a wonderful family activity, as can cooking or baking. Take a family trip. Make it an adventure. Each of these ideas strengthen your entire family while building up each individual. You’re providing opportunities for fun and conversation and creating memories that will last a lifetime.
Help your children get to know other caring adults in your community. Give them the opportunity to meet people who value youth. When kids perceive themselves as valued and as having a useful role in the community, they gain a sense of personal worth, empowerment and safety.
When you become an asset-building parent, you help your children to grow up happy and well-adjusted. It’s not a foolproof formula, but it does improve the odds that your child will grow up strong.