We have all noticed that human communication and relationships seem to be deteriorating – the rate of divorce is still on the rise, bullying is a worldwide phenomenon and the point of discussion everywhere, young people are staying single longer or choosing not to have kids and let’s not get started on customer service. Things are bad and we know it.
But why is that?
It just so happens that this week, I have had a few opportunities to think about this and I would like to share these thoughts with you.
From “others, others, others” to “me, me, me”
At a pool party for Noff’s friend, one father complained about his daughter disregard for the high of mobile phone charges and said he was surprised she had been so careless with his money. Another mother spoke of how her daughter used Facebook to splash every little thought in all her friends’ faces without taking into account how they might take it. Both parents were quite frustrated with their kids.
There is a personal growth newsletters I get regularly, but never read. For some bizarre reason, I read it this week, and it suggested that in order to succeed, we need to stop focusing on personal achievements and start focusing on others for a change.
Then, I got a LinkedIn notice about a discussion, titled (what else) “How to get the most out of LinkedIn?” My first response to that was, “Give first”, which was followed within a short time by, “What do you mean?”
In another discussion, titled “How to turn clients into raving fans?”, I wrote that Ronit and I often give people valuable tips and advice on personal or business matters, simply because we want to help them. These people appreciate the free help and reward us with referrals or directly buying from us. Someone posted after that, “This seems like a good idea, but can you give some examples?”
What is going on here?
When I was growing up, I was told to be polite and considerate. My parents thought about what others would think about the way I dressed, the way I combed my hair, how I spoke, the grades I got and many other things. They looked me over and made sure I was presentable before I went out the door.
It was all about others.
And my parents were not the only ones. My friends were also taught to respect others, especially adults, to be kind and to play well with friends. Fairness was a big thing for us and we always had to be fair, whatever that meant.
Even when I spent 6 months as an exchange student in the USA, I saw a similar approach to community and manners that I had back home. Thinking of how our actions and words affect others was required everywhere and by everyone, sometimes along with guilt feelings if we were not as considerate as another person wanted us to be.
We had to get special permission to think of ourselves.
Then came the personal development movement, attachment parenting, mass media and the Internet.
Now, life is all about “me”. Generation Y is famous for “taking care of #1”. It is called “the Peter Pan generation” for holding on to childlike behavior, including being self-centered and self-serving. In a way, this is likely because they were raised by parents who did not want to put them through the self-minimizing upbringing they had been given. As with any cultural change, the proverbial pendulum swung from one extreme to the other and here we are.
“Need to know”
Unless you have no TV and no computer at home (how are you reading this?), you will know all about the dysfunctional relationships portrayed in movies and TV shows. In order to keep the suspense and reveal the plot gradually, or to create comic situations, we often see characters keeping important information to themselves and sometimes going to great lengths to do it.
The results is that our kids (and we) are exposed to what is presented as “family life”, “friendship”, “the way young people behave” or “what happens at a school somewhere” and contains massively distorted communication and relationships. If you look closely at many of the situations shown on TV or in movies, they could be handled heaps better by sharing a little bit of information, often related to how somebody feels.
All too often, I find myself trying to explain to 9-year-old Noff how I decide whether it is OK for her to watch something or not, but she has not gotten it just yet. The main problem arises when I say to her, “Real people don’t talk like that”, and she says, “Sure they do. My friends talk like that all the time”…
And it is not just movies and TV. I am reading a book with an interesting idea in it – a girl who can only remember the future. That special condition creates many complications in her life and raises some interesting points, but she keeps making it more complicated than it needs to be by hiding her special condition from someone who has proven his worth to her over and over again. Sure, he is a boy and he looks great and she wants him to like her, but basing a relationship with him on deceit just feels wrong to me.
In this kind of relationship, each person is complicating things by keeping everyone else in the dark. Sure, there is no need to share our every thought, but being upfront about the important things that are going on in our life can help other people relate to us much better.
A teenager who tells his parents about being beaten at school may be embarrassed for a while, but then will get lots of sympathy and support. A teenager who looks down or away, mumbles and locks himself in his room will be treated like a weirdo. What we choose to share with others matters. A lot.
How to teach kids about good relationships
OK, so what now? What can we do as parents to teach our kids to be kind, reliable, open and communicative?
As always, the first thing to do is examine the way we think, talk and act:
- Are you focused on yourself?
- Are you focused on what others think of you?
- How often do you try to make someone in your family happy, without expecting anything in return?
- What stories do you tell your kids about your day, particularly about your interactions with other people?
- How well do you listen?
- How do you respond to your kids’ stories, particularly about their interactions with other people?
- Are you open to other people’s views, no matter how young?
- How good are your relationships with your kids, partner, parents and siblings?
- How honest and open are you in your communication, particularly when it comes to expressing your feelings?
Consider the messages about communication and relationships your kids receive on a regular basis:
- What kind of relationships do they watch on TV?
- What kind of relationships do they see on the computer?
- What kind of communication do they read about in books and magazines?
- What kind of kids to they hang out with and what kind of relationships do they have with those kids?
- What kind of messages about relationships do they get from your circle of families (your friends and their kids)?
- How are your children treated at school by their teachers?
- How do your kids interact online – by email or on social media sites?
Check your lifestyle:
- Do your kids have enough opportunities for positive, active face-to-face interactions with other people?
- Does your lifestyle leave enough room for quality time with your kids?
- Does your lifestyle leave enough room for quality time with your partner?
Make some changes:
- Review your answers to the questions above and list things you want to change
- Attach strong reasons for making each change. List clear benefits to you, to your partner, to your kids and to anyone else who may be affected. Keep adding benefits until you feel you really must make that change
- If any one of your reasons is negative, e.g. “To stop feeling frustrated”, translate it to its positive equivalent, e.g. “To make things easy, flowing and productive”
- Decide what to do. The father mentioned above employs his daughter in his business 4 hours a week until she repays her mobile phone debt. Find a creative way to change your situation, making sure everybody involved will benefit
- If any of your changes require other people’s actions of commitment, restate them so that you are the only person responsible for the change. No matter what other people do, you should still complete your goals, so write them this way from the beginning
- Set a timeframe to complete each change. Make sure you feel you can accomplish each change by your chosen deadline. Start slowly, consider how the changes may affect others and build on your successes
Come back and share your experience and your views with us as you go a long, and again when you are done. I am sure many parents run into similar situations and will appreciate your creative solutions and a good story. You are also likely to get much needed support and ideas to keep yourself going.