News flash: gardeners can’t simply plant a seed in the ground, then come back a couple of months later to enjoy the fruit. No, it takes time and tending and intentionality to grow a garden.
Like growing plants, our high school students need nurturing. The seeds of character training we planted in elementary school will continue to grow, but we have to cultivate that desired character until it’s harvest time.
HOW TO CULTIVATE CHARACTER IN THE HIGH SCHOOL YEARS
We often think of the definition of train in character training as to “teach a particular skill or type of behavior through practice and instruction over a period of time.”
And that is so true. We want our children to develop honorable character traits, and that takes both practice and instruction over a period of time.
However, there’s another definition we shouldn’t ignore. To train can also mean to “cause (a plant) to grow in a particular direction or into a required shape.”
Our high schoolers are still growing, and they need to be nurtured by the gardeners’ God has assigned to watch over their care—their parents.
Cultivating Character in the High School Years
How can we cultivate an atmosphere that encourages growth? One that finds a balance between protection and allowing them to experience the storms and wind that will make them stronger?
Make Relationships a Priority
Parents of teens often feel an immense pressure about what school should look like in the high school years. It’s as if there’s a switch that goes off: It’s time to buckle down and get serious. We have to think about credits and transcripts. Now it counts.
Or perhaps their students won’t go to college and the focus becomes, “What will they do for a living?” How will we help them find training in a specific skill?
Let’s not get so lost in all of the details of school work that we forget the foundation of any good education: relationship.
Dr. Ruth Beenchick put it this way,
“Homeschooling is largely heart to heart. The methods and even the curriculum do not matter nearly as much as the relationship between child and parent.”
The high school years are perhaps the time in our children’s lives that this becomes even more important.
Nurture Relationship (and Some of the Character Traits it Develops)
- Be intentional about communicating. Communication is a two-way street. As parents we need to spend as much time listening as we do talking (maybe even more!). This might be hard at times when we don’t agree with what our teens are saying, but by listening to them we show that we care about what they have to say. That their thoughts are valid and important to us. And when we do that they are more likely to listen when we talk too.
- Help your kids to find healthy ways to deal with their emotions. Give your teens permission to take some time to walk away and get a handle on their feelings when emotions are high. Together, brainstorm ways to deal with things like anger, disappointment, fear, and sadness. Our kids need to know they can trust us when they are overwhelmed with all of the feelings.
- Cultivate Character by Modeling. The characteristics that you desire to see in them when it comes to how people should relate to one another. Do you say phrases like thank you and please to your teens? How do you and your spouse interact with one another? Are you a good listener? Do you show your teens the respect you expect from them? I know we’ve heard it a million times, but our kids learn more from our actions than our words.
- Have fun together. One of God’s gifts to us is the ability to laugh and enjoy one another. Be sure not to neglect having regular family nights to simply have fun. Whether it’s a game night or an evening hanging out outside and grilling—don’t let busy schedules keep you from making your time together a priority.
Cultivate Character in High School by Staying Involved in Their Education
As our students get older, they become more and more independent with their work, and in many ways we want them to be. The skills required to plan out their time and ability to be self-disciplined are essential to adulthood. But increased independence doesn’t mean they don’t still need you!
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Some students thrive in their independence and it comes naturally to them, while others struggle and need more guidance. They need to be taught the skills needed to do it effectively. However, all students need accountability.
Here are some ways you can stay involved while still encouraging and growing independence:
- Work together to choose classes and study materials. As your kids mature, let them have a say in what they are doing. This will help them learn critical decision- making skills and how to take ownership of their own education.
- Schedule daily or weekly meetings to check in on their progress based on their particular needs. During this “check-in” you can give feedback, help them figure out how to work through problems or provide any other support they need.
- Read aloud together. I know that may sound odd to some, but high school students can still be a part of the family read-aloud time. They can also do some of the reading aloud (a great skill) to younger students. Reading aloud as a family provides a great opportunity to discuss ideas. It’s a non-confrontational way to talk about character issues as you relate those issues to the characters in the book.
The Cultivated Character in the High School Years
Just consider some of the character traits that are nurtured through our relationships with our teens and by continuing to stay involved in their education. By doing these things, we are helping them to develop respectfulness, self-control, diligence, perseverance, responsibility, trustworthiness, and so much more.
Like plants in a garden, the fruit is seen after the plant has spent the right amount of time in conditions that foster growth. Be patient and keep gardening.