Recently, I packed up my office at school to come home for the summer. I had collected cards and notes from students during the course of the year – thank you notes, Thanksgiving cards, and goodbye missives written by those same teenagers we all accuse of being self-centered. They’re not. Okay, sometimes they are. But they are also completely selfless when it comes to expressing their genuine gratitude. The two drawers in my nightstand contain enough evidence of teenage sweetness to dispel any rumors you may have heard of their apathy. They care, very much, especially about people who care about them.
As I gathered each note, I re-read it, first with smiles, and then increasingly with awe. I noticed for the first time a pattern among the letters in a phrase I never expected to hear about myself:
“You inspire me.”
Trust me, I’m not telling you this to boast or brag. Quite the opposite, actually. This was an incredibly humbling experience for me. To be considered an inspiration to another human being – to several of them – is, as they used to say in the 70’s, heavy, man. When I think of inspirational people, I tend to think of Mother Theresa, Olympic athletes, and soldiers. Certainly not myself.
But when I really think about who has inspired me, personally, my single grandmother raising my mom on her own comes to mind. Then my mom. Then some amazing mentors I’ve had over the years. I’m not sure that any of them know they’ve inspired me, but they absolutely have. They have inspired me to work hard, persevere, be independent, think for myself, and never carry a grudge.
As parents, you inspire your children. They may never tell you that, so I’m doing it for them. I had coffee with a young man today who would impress the socks off of you, and guess what? His parents have played a primary role in the man he is becoming. They’ve inspired him to communicate in healthy ways, to help those in need, and to know when to let go. He knows and respects their bottom line, and there’s not a doubt in my mind he will go on to inspire his own children one day.
So what can you do specifically to make a lasting impact on your kids? Try the following:
1. Be who you say you are. Teach your kids that authenticity is crucial to trust and and respect.
2. Live out your faith. Teach your kids that prayer, gratitude, and treating others as you would be treated are basic tenets of your life.
3. Give your kids – and everyone else in your life – the benefit of the doubt. Don’t expect them to mess up. Expect them to be amazing and then raise them to do just that.
4. Forgive those who have wronged you. Pick yourself up and move on. You won’t inspire anyone by holding onto bitterness and becoming a victim.
5. Always strive to be better. Set the example for your kids of lifelong learning, pursuit of mastery, and giving your all to a task.
6. Respect yourself. There’s no better way to model high standards and healthy relationships.
7. Be confident. If you know who you are, play to your strengths, and worry less about what others think, your kids will be much more likely to develop that same confidence.
8. Believe in your kids’ dreams. Be realistic, but let them know that you respect and support their dreams, especially when their dreams differ from yours. They need to know that their future is their own.
9. Have a sense of humor. When you can laugh at yourself, they learn not to take themselves and their problems so seriously. Humor puts everything in perspective.
10. Give them the security they need to fly. It seems paradoxical, but when they know you’re always there for them, that’s when they truly find their freedom.
Inspire your kids today. Greatness doesn’t mean fame and fortune. It means being an inspiration to others.
Dr. Rebecca Deurlein is the author of Teenagers 101: What a top teacher wishes you knew about helping your kid succeed (Amazon, Barnes & Noble). She is a mom of two who has a doctorate in education and 20 years’ experience as a teacher of thousands of teens. Rebecca lives in Sugar Land, TX, and works at Fort Bend Christian Academy. She has her own freelance writing business, and her blog, A Teacher’s Guide to Understanding Teenagers, can be found at rebeccadeurlein.wordpress.com. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter. For public speaking events or more information, go to rebeccadeurlein.com.