How did you learn to parent? Most of us learned from our own parents and grandparents. I’ll bet the imprint of your childhood is so strong that you either pattern your parenting after your own upbringing or your reaction against it.
I’m always surprised when my grandmother’s Depression-era catchphrases drop out of my mouth, summoned by some mysterious force. Is it imprinting that launches this parent autopilot? Maybe these time-worn phrases endure because they’re so dang relevant.
Consider the phrase, “This too shall pass,” which reminds us of the transience of all events, both good and bad.
Or, “It is what it is,” representing acceptance of that which may not make sense, but that you cannot change.
As our kids have grown into teens, my grandmother’s aphorisms seem more and more applicable to our life.
We’re all indelibly marked by experiences of our own childhoods. Yet, if you have different values than your parents or grandparents – or even if you share the same outlook – it’s not always going to be enough help you navigate the parenting trials of this changing world.
All over the globe, parents are confronting challenges that we (and our parents) may never have dreamed possible. Information travels at the speed of light; the hourly news cycle brings us escalating tensions and violence; opioid addiction is rampant and growing; video game designers study principles of behavioral science to keep our kids in the game. And we’re all lit by the everpresent glow of a screen. Why can’t we turn them off?
As kids grow into tweens and teens, their exposure to all that chaos grows wider. And deeper. If we adults find it confusing, imagine how it feels from a young perspective.
And no one is going to sit you down with a crystal ball and say, “Look, that sweet toddler you have there is going to be a handful when she hits 16. She’ll start hanging out with new friends in high school who drink and then she’ll start experimenting with drugs. Oh, and that baby in your arms? Video game addiction and tanking grades, starting in grade 7. Good luck”.
We’re going to need a strong and intentional framework to deal with all of that. In a quickly shifting world, a guiding set of values and beliefs is a cornerstone of parenting. This philosophy we outline in this site has helped us to stay on course in our parenting and has given a structure to lean on in times of uncertainty and stress.
As parents of teens, we’re all tested every day.
Something you should know about us at Parent Samurai: we march to the beat of a different drum. And we’re skeptical by nature. Because of this, we’ve always taken the advice of various offspring-wrangler authorities with a grain of salt.
The topic of child-rearing was dominated in the 20th Century by Dr. Spock, the famous baby whisperer and purveyor of all things practical in raising children. His ideas influenced our early parenting years. He was out of fashion by the time we discovered him. He was followed by William Sears and Terry Brazelton who both built on his philosophy, but most of his original advice still rang truer than anything to follow. Check out Spock’s revolutionary parent tip which gave us the confidence to believe in our own judgment: trust your instincts; you probably know more than you think.
Our tattered copy of his book fell apart after years of use.
Now there are many voices educating us parents and just as many contradictions among them. Also, as our teens have aged, what worked before just doesn’t fit. There are fewer voices to support parenting the chameleon teen.
In Parent Samurai, we share what works for us. Our experience won’t apply to every situation, and we’re not psychologists or pediatricians. We’re parents raising teens. Samurai Mom is a teacher with over 20 years of experience teaching elementary-, middle- and college-age students. Samurai Dad is a project manager with 20 years of experience working with diverse groups of teenagers disguised as adults. We share a love of learning and a commitment to living an intentional life.
So, what is a Parent Samurai? Although they lived in a different time, the Samurai consciously practiced a set of virtues that are still relevant today. In fact, we would argue that they are more needed than ever. In our vision, a Parent Samurai is a parent, guardian or other caregiver that interprets the Code of the Samurai and applies it as a set of guiding values to their parenting. We at Parent Samurai have adapted these values through the lens of Bushido to guide us through the teen years with confidence, compassion and steely resolve.
We experience these 8 principles as timeless and universal to raising teens:
- Justice – An inner compass detecting the difference between right and wrong
- Courage – Showing up every day, even in difficult circumstances
- Compassion – Acceptance of self and others
- Respect – Valuing others and self
- Honesty & Integrity – Honoring authenticity in ourselves and others
- Honor – Recognition and appreciation
- Loyalty – Unconditional love; steadfast fidelity to your family
- Character & Self Control – the cornerstone and biggest challenge of raising teens
Effective parenting is built on consistency. It’s easy to get caught up in a crisis and make decisions on the fly which we later regret. A strong set of values flexibly applied, allows parents to make deliberate choices to help support the growth and development of our teens.
There is a clear difference between right and wrong. Our purpose is to be a model and guide our teens toward ethical behavior. We also encourage tolerance and the power of considering a situation from all sides.
Here’s an example: Teens tend to travel in friend groups, in which social pressures can change on a dime. For a variety of possible reasons, one member can get singled out arbitrarily. Maybe he wore the wrong shirt to school or missed that critical goal in PE. What begins as one mocking comment can escalate day-by-day into chronic teasing or an unfortunate nickname. The target is embarrassed, feeling ashamed and increasingly self-conscious. We’ve worked with our teen to look at situations like these from all sides. She knows how to identify the group behavior for what it is – a form of bullying and how it makes the recipient feel. Our teen does her best to step in and change the direction of the conversation. Even if it goes unnoticed by the group, the target may feel supported. And just as important, our daughter understands that it’s the right thing to do.
Anxiety about the world or the influence of some parenting models may direct some parents to develop patterns of intervention on their teen’s behalf. In contrast, the focus of a Parent Samurai is not on solving a problem for a teen. It’s helping them develop the tools to step up, acknowledge mistakes and make them right. Notice how different this is from swooping in from 10,000 feet in a battle-ready parent helicopter.
But what if the right thing to do is unclear? Real life can be confusing and teens experience multi-layered situations that seem to require powers of divination to sort out. The choices between right and wrong become blurred. We’re all apt to follow the occasional misdirection.
Here’s the difference: Parent Samurais exercise patience. We stay engaged, review these situations as they evolve, we get more information. The truth reveals itself. It’s never too late to acknowledge an honest mistake and correct the course.
Courage is doing the right thing even in the face of challenging circumstances. The Parent Samurai has the courage to show up and face the world with your teen(s) every day. It takes courage to help open doors without knowing exactly what is on the other side.
On a lark, our son asked to audition for a part in a play. This wasn’t just some school play, it was a significant musical production on a big stage. He was a little nervous, while we were beyond-sweaty-palms nervous for him. You know, like the kind of nervous that makes you feel like you swallowed a toad? After all, he’d had no acting experience, not even a tiny part in a school production. Still, we helped him run the lines, learn the songs, crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.
Let’s cut to it: He got the part. He’s been going after bigger and bigger roles ever since. As the characters grow in complexity, the stakes grow; we keep on supporting him in creating the best version of himself possible, even though it’s not a path we would choose for ourselves. We’re not performers, but he is. We had to have the courage to trust that he knows his own heart.
Showing up means that you support your teen’s growth, even when it’s uncomfortable for you both. Sometimes you may even know what will happen if they choose a course of action, like when your teen betrays the secret crush of a friend. The result? The friendship is damaged. The natural consequences of the betrayal are far more powerful than any advice you would have front-loaded. It’s now your teen’s job to find a way to repair the relationship.
How to embrace fear. Evaluate situations by their real danger and not by the anxiety of taking a risk. Facing fears can make us all stronger.
Parent Samurais stand their ground. Parents are not peers. Let me repeat: parents are not friends. We get the big bucks because we have to make tough, unpopular decisions sometimes. We’re willing to question our teens when needed and validate the answers. ‘No’ is an acceptable Parent Samurai answer, backed by a solid reason whenever possible. We also reserve the right to make a decision based on gut instinct without offering concrete evidence right away. The trust that you develop with your teen will give you currency to spend in these situations; there are times in this quickly changing world in which your teen needs to trust your judgment.
A Parent Samurai understands everyone has flaws and makes mistakes. The parent seeks first to understand before acting. Compassion guides their outlook toward their teen and toward themselves as a parent. It’s commonly believed that the inner critic each of us carries motivates us to be better. In reality, researchers at Stanford University determined that self-flagellation only holds one back from becoming our best by promoting harsh feelings and eroding self-worth. Having self-compassion doesn’t diminish integrity or standards of accountability. In reality, mistakes will happen. How we move forward down the path afterward takes compassion, for ourselves and others.
Full disclosure here: I’m a parent that envisions all the possible outcomes after my kid makes one (significant) mistake. In fact, it’s like I wrote the following guidance for myself. When my kid screws up, my imagination runs wild.
As my son put it at the dinner table the other night, “Mom, just because I got a 72 on my French quiz doesn’t mean I’m going to end up living in a van down by the river.”
I laughed out loud. My son has a knack for putting things in perspective.
When your kid messes up, though, the stakes feel pretty high. The situation may seem out of control. Like me, you may see the act as one of a series of escalating behaviors that ends badly for your teen. Yet, in the heat of the moment, we parents have the long view. We can see that there are a range of possible outcomes and that this is one mistake among other, better decisions that our teen can make going forward.
It’s our job to keep a cool head. And you too can make better parenting decisions going forward even if you have reacted poorly in the moment.
We try our best to instill a sense of compassion and empathy in our teens. The challenge is in getting them to see that there is a bigger world beyond the end of their own nose. Their friends, relatives and even complete strangers deserve the same compassion we encourage them to offer themselves.
A Parent Samurai relies on his/her own self-respect to strengthen resolve. We understand that parenting a teen is not about being liked all the time and that we are not their peer. This allows us to maintain objectivity, a crucial Parent Samurai trait.
Developing mutual respect with your teen is the core of a successful relationship, helping your teen develop their own self-control. Contrasted with a parent authoritarian model which imposes control from an external source, this internal code of respect will be one that guides them most effectively in adulthood.
A mutually respectful relationship means that you are also open to the lessons they will teach you. Don’t dismiss your teen’s outlook because you have the benefit of more experience. Their perspective is valuable because it is fresh and unique; they may have observations about the world that never would have occurred to you.
Humility is a facet of respect. You understand that you don’t know everything and your teen brings their own energy and outlook to the relationship. The difference is seeing your teen as not a vessel to be filled with knowledge but as a life force all their own. Like you, the life force needs to be guided to fulfill its potential. For us, it’s about accepting the lessons they bring making us better parents and humans.
Respect for your teen’s perspective can be hard to marshal in the heat of a conflict when your kids are still developing the skills of respectful disagreement. At times our adolescents cling to their arguments so tenaciously that they seem just seconds away from hissing, “HOW STUPID ARE YOU?!”
It’s that exact moment that you need to take a breath. Step back. Leave the room if you need to. Remember that no matter how grown up they appear to be, they’re not adults yet. But you are, the one with the benefit of all that experience.
Honesty & Integrity
There are a couple of different facets to consider in dealing with a teen honestly. Your teen will always ask for the truth, though they may not be ready to hear it in its entirety. Do they have a friend or romantic interest that you see as a negative influence? Best not unleash a torrent of criticism about the person, or it will backfire. You could instead focus on communicating the behavioral changes that you’ve noticed in your teen without connecting them directly to the friend’s influence.
A Parent Samurai frames the truth to be most useful for a teen’s growth and development. In other words, a teen doesn’t need honesty in a stream-of-consciousness which serves up all the unfiltered thoughts in your head. Keep it age-appropriate; don’t burden them with your worries if they’re not ready to hear or help. Consider the information that they need to move forward. That said, in every interaction, err on the side of more honesty vs. less.
A Parent Samurai encourages honesty in teens by practicing empathy and active listening. Let your teen’s story unfold without interjecting or trying to fix a problem. Put away devices and give them your full attention. Practice some of these techniques to improve the level of trust and communication between you.
A Parent Samurai accepts the role of parent as the most important job you’ll ever have. Dr. Louise Hart, frames this privilege as The Golden Rule of Parenting; “Do unto your children what you wish your parents had done for you.” You are your teen’s first teacher and you accept the privilege because you honor it. No guilt. No obligation. No debt. Raise them to be free from these encumbrances.
By showing our teens that we take this responsibility earnestly we help build their trust in us. To further develop that trust we communicate directly. If we don’t like something that our teen says or did, we call it out and expect them to do the same in return. Teens have heightened senses for both manipulation and hypocrisy. Burying something unpleasant or addressing it in a passive aggressive way will leave them feeling manipulated when it surfaces again later. And it will surface eventually, like all unresolved feelings do.
Loyalty and Unconditional Love
Does your teen know they can count on you to be there for them? Be where you say you’ll be. Do what you commit to doing. If a situation changes, communicate the change in plans.
Don’t sell them out – your teen needs to know that they can trust you to guide them in private. Their mistakes should never be fodder for public review, or even shared with extended family in some circumstances. A disturbing trend in parenting in this digital age is the increasing tendency of parents to discipline their kids via social media. Public shaming is detrimental to developing parent-teen trust. Our advice? Vent your frustrations with teen behavior face-to-face with a trusted friend or counselor.
Unconditional love – Show your love at all times, even when angry or frustrated. Focus on the behaviors that aren’t serving them or your family well, not your teen’s character. They need to know that you love them and will be there for them always.
Loyalty to your teen means never measuring them against someone else’s accomplishments. They are competing with their own best; the emphasis on personal growth and not on competition with siblings or friends.
There is a fine line between encouraging your kid to overcome their own challenges and pushing so hard that you stop seeing the amazing person standing in front of you right now. It’s easy to get caught up in encouraging change and growth. Practice mindful appreciation for your kids as they are this moment.
Character / Self control
Self-control and character are the cornerstone of the all of the virtues of the Bushido. A Parent Samurai models self-control by practicing these virtues and instilling them in our teens. We believe Michelle Obama was thinking along these lines when she said “With every word we utter, with every action we take, we know our kids are watching us, we as parents are their most important role models”.
We don’t choose to take the Path of the Samurai Parent because it’s easy or convenient. In a turbulent world, we rely on the Samurai code to help raise our teens as individuals with strong character, an ethical outlook and compassion. The firm but flexible framework allows us to respond to the unforeseen in ways that stay true to our values. We’re challenged every day to do our best through these rollercoaster years!
If you see your parenting style in the Bushido Code, you may already be a Parent Samurai. And if not, it’s never too late to be more intentional in your relationships.
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