It's a scary time to be raising children, author and motivational speaker H. Stephen Glenn told a group of parents Thursday night.
"We live in a world changing so rapidly that all our traditional assumptions ... are challenged, modified and invalidated on almost a daily basis," he said.
Fortunately, Glenn had some words of wisdom to share with the crowd to make the challenge a bit easier.
Glenn, the author of the "Developing Capable Young People" program, has nearly 43 years of experience as a professional advocate for youth and family. He's written a number of books, served on numerous national panels and boards and advised four presidents, "though not all listened," he said.
He also has plenty of experience, as a father, stepfather, grandfather, great-grandfather and foster father.
And he brought that experience to the Kenai Peninsula last week, speaking to groups of educators, parents and community members in several different sessions.
Thursday night alone, he spoke to about 150 parents and community members in a 2 1/2-hour presentation full of laughter, anecdotes and passion for young people.
"One of our greatest challenges today is to learn strategies to increase hope for young people," he said.
Often, he told the audience, the nation looks only at the negative, creating a hopeless atmosphere.
"How many of you have heard that 90 percent of abusive parents were abused as children?" he asked.
The vast majority of abusive parents were abused as children, he conceded. But, he added, most children who are abused do not become abusive.
"Seventy percent find ways not to be abusive. Isn't that good news?" he asked.
"The country recently went nuts when it was announced that drug abuse had doubled," he said. "It went from 5 percent to 11 percent. But what about the other 89 percent? What are they doing different?"
In light of such a negative world view, Glenn said, one of the best things parents can do for their children is to build and maintain an atmosphere of hope.
Glenn also said parents and others who interact with children need to give the kids an opportunity to see who the adults are.
"How many of you know most research shows that kids derive more of their morals ... from parents and teachers than from their peers?" he asked. "We're still in the driver's seat, if we know what to do."
After sharing a story of his time spent with Olympian Florence Johnson, Glenn passed on one of her recommendations: That parents or teachers post a favorite quote -- one that demonstrates who they are and what they believe -- where children can see it.
"It's important that children get at least some data about us," he said.
Glenn also spoke about what he sees as the country's obsession with consumption and competition.
"(Too many) parents believe that the more they do for their children, the more they love them," he said. "It's not true. The more they do for their children, the less certain the children are of their ability to contribute."
He said research shows the young people who are most vulnerable to peer pressure, drugs and other vices are those who do not consider themselves needed. The same is true for people of all ages, he said.
"And older person who has a plant or pet they believe needs them will be healthier, have less sick days and live longer," Glenn said.
So, he said, "Avoid doing too much for your children. Create a world in which they believe they make a significant contribution to your world."
He also said children need an opportunity to make a contribution to their own world.
Too often, he said, parents' need for competition overshadows the fun of learning and of being a child.
"My daughter called me two years ago and she was crying," he said. "She said, 'Dad, Jamie is about to be named valedictorian of his preschool.'
"Our hearts sunk to think of all the little kids who had just started their journey of discovery and had it ended."
Glenn, who provided a regular endowment to the preschool, changed the situation by convincing the school's board of directors to do away with preschool valedictorians and instead have a celebration of learning for all students. He also convinced the school to replace "My child is an honor roll student at Stonehearst" bumper stickers with ones that read, "Stonehearst is honored to have my child."
But changes at the one school are not enough, Glenn said.
"Right now in America, hundreds of thousands of little kids every day get themselves up, dress in whatever they can scrounge and eat what they can with the belief, 'If I can get on that (school) bus, something could happen,'" he said. "They should be celebrated just for showing up. But, no, they find themselves in head-to-head competition. Because, one in five parents may be secretly going back to elementary school under the name of their children."
Competition has its place, Glenn said. But it also is crucial that parents and schools teach children to collaborate and provide an opportunity for students to learn at their own rate.
"I would teach people the art of separating who children are from what they do," he said. "You're not an A student, you're doing A work, at this time, with this teacher.
"If only we could begin to reserve the words good and bad, right and wrong for morals and in life use other things."
Finally, he said, it's important for parents to remember that they are doing the best they can, as well.
"No two children are the same," Glenn said. "My mom pointed out, 'My heavens, Stephen, Adam and Eve figured that out.'
"The whole thing starts out with two individuals walking and talking with God ... but because they were individuals, they obviously reached different conclusions about the restrictions on the apple."
And even Adam and Eve, who had a one-on-one relationship with God, ended up with one son dead and one son a murderer, he said.
"They had no peers, no MTV, nothing, and still they were only 50-50," Glenn said. "So if your kids haven't murdered each other, celebrate. You're way ahead of Adam and Eve."
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