Having had a crazy week that started in Istanbul, Turkey moved on to Las Vegas, Nevada and ended in Banff, Canada, I once again have learned the universality of parenthood. A speaking assignment for the Young President’s Organization took Richard and me to Istanbul. There our little hotel was literally across the street from the famous Blue Mosque, named for the hundreds of thousands of blue tile mosaics that this breathtakingly enormous edifice houses. Each morning we were awakened at exactly sunrise (about 6:15 a.m.) by loud speakers that sounded as though they were in our room and the mournful five minute “Call to Prayer” (one of five such events during the day) sung by a dedicated Muslim leader of the faith. Totally immersed in the Moslem world, despite the fact that the government is trying to downplay that role and even “fired” a woman legislator for wearing a scarf in Parliament, I was delighted to be submerged in yet another fascinating culture.
We arrived a couple of days early and enjoyed the fabulous sights of Istanbul with a ride down the Phosphorous, the narrow waterway that divides Europe and Asia, and a wild taxi ride across two new bridges that connect the two continents. Within a few yards of our hotel also were the glories of ancient St. Sophia, the enormous, often fought over Mosque/Cathedral which is now a museum and we were close by The Grand Bazaar, the 4000 shop, ultimate bartering-shopping experience of the world.
Our speech was given at a fabulous venue overlooking the glittering city of Istanbul and our audience was about 70 parents. Most were highly successful business men and women, many who had inherited their business through their family and some who were entrepreneurs. They had invited their young adolescents and teenagers to attend so we had a delightful group of well-mannered young people as well.
One segment of our presentations is about helping kids from ages 8-14 make good decisions. We suggested that they give their children a special journal where they could record their life experiences… but that they should first have them turn to the last page and put a title at the top that says, DECISIONS I HAVE MADE IN ADVANCE. We then suggest that they talk through with their kids in a private one-on-one session, certain things that they can decide right now. It’s fun to get them thinking at first about decisions they can make now by laughing with them about things they can’t decide right now…i.e. where they are going to college, who they are going to marry or how many kids they are going to have. After which they should move into the more serious stuff that their kids can decide about right now, which may involve drugs, smoking, alcohol and early-recreational sex. We told them that when they have talked through a decision that the child feels sure he/she wants to make, he/she should write it down on that page, formally sign it and date it so that it becomes a pact with him/herself.
Just for fun we chose a darling 12 year old boy in the audience as our “guinea pig” and asked him about what he felt he could write on his page about decisions he could make in advance. He immediately said, “I will never take drugs.” When asked if he was absolutely sure, he said, “Yes, I’m sure.” He was ready to write it down, sign and seal it, even after we suggested that there might be a time when that decision would become difficult. We suggested that he might be at a party with a girl he really liked and with all his best friends when she suggested he try a little white pill she had that everyone at the whole party had tried. She promised that it was not really drugs but would make him feel so great in just a few minutes and then he would be “one of them.” When we asked him would he could say to that, he smiled and said, “I would just say, “No I promised myself that I would never take anything like that when I was 12 years old. Would you want me to break that promise?”
Beautiful! Having that answer firmly in his mind will be a huge advantage to him as he enters the scary world of adulthood. When we asked him whether or not he could promise himself that he would never cheat on a test in school, he hesitated. It felt as though it was already too late on that one and he’d have to reconsider that before he could write it down. With giggles from the audience, he promised that he would consider that and let us know his answer.
Though we had done this with many American audiences, we were amazed to see that the dilemmas that our human values pose are exactly the same all over the world. Flying into Las Vegas the next night, juxtaposed between two worlds that couldn’t be more different in culture, the audience we spoke to the next day had children with the exactly the same dilemmas and values…as did the audience in spectacular, but cold Canada.
Working with our own children on their “Decisions in Advance” was a process over several months for each child. We talked about each decision one at a time and posed situations that might be stumbling blocks to their decisions. It is one of the most valuable things we have ever done. They had answers ready for tough situations. The decision was already made. It has been an anchor in many tough situations that has kept them rooted and helped them dodge many an unexpected bullet in their growing up years. When we really help our kids think through their own decisions, it gives them ownership of their own goals instead of it being your goals for them. Once they make the decisions, they own them and the likelihood of follow through, though not guaranteed, rises significantly.
If you are the mama of a “middle aged” kid, this concept of helping kids make decisions in advance is worth thinking about. It’s a pretty good insurance policy and a grand safety net for your children and our grandchildren who are splashing into a scary world with whacky values that often don’t match with our own beliefs. Good luck!