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Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Many parents don't talk to their teen-agers about such important issues as budgeting and respect for cultural differences, because the parents themselves feel they don't have these issues under control. That's according to Grading Grown-ups, a nationwide study recently conducted by the Lutheran Brotherhood and Search Institute. The Saturday Early Show's Mike Riera has some insights.
What stands out about this survey?

A quarter of parents don't think it's important to talk with their kids about money, how to treat different people, or giving to charity. And of the 75 percent of parents that think these are important topics to discuss with their children, slightly less than half actually have these conversations.

Of the parents who think it's important to discuss these issues, why do so few of them do it? Two reasons: their experiences with their parents and the fear of hypocrisy.

If their parents never talked with them about these topics, then they don't have a reference point. For instance: If a father's idea of a sex talk was to plop down a book and say, "Ask if you have questions," his son doesn't have a great reference point for how to have a sex talk with his child. But he has a reference point from which he can improve upon what his father did.

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Hypocrisy. Basically, I think many parents feel like they have to have it all together in these areas before they broach the topics with their kids. Adults feel they have to understand the value of money, have an accurate budget that they adhere to, and only purchase what they need when they need it. Or that they are sure that they are not biased about any types of people. Because nobody fits into that category, most parents with this belief never broach the topics because they're afraid they'll be found out.

Whatever the reason parents aren't having these conversations, the solution is the same: They have to expand their parenting comfort zone. Intelligently going through this discomfort is the only way to develop new, better and more conscious parenting skills and break the cycle of silence around these issues.

Are there any areas that parents are willing to discuss with their kids? Yes: Doing well in school and respecting adults.

These are seldom conversations; these are lectures, and lectures are not very effective with teen-agers. Also, those areas (do well in school and respect adults) are strictly in the realm of adolescents. Adults are done with school and are the adults we're trying to get teen-agers to respect. So, in these cases, parents don't fear being called hypocrites.

Well, as good parents, shouldn't we model what we say to our kids?

Careful! This is a slippery slope. Yes, in an ideal world, we would model in our day-to-day lives, all these qualities for our kids.

But just which? Financial savvy? Personal values?

If you have a question for Mike Riera about dealing with your teen, send an email to with "Ask Mike" in the subject line. Or write to "Ask Mike" The Saturday Early Show, 514 West 57th St., 6th floor, New York, N.Y. 10019. Your question may be featured on future shows.

All are great, but nobody ever nails these 100 percent. By nature, they're elusive. So if you're waiting for that day, your kids will never hear from you.

Consider what you need to model and teach your kids, especially your teen-agers. As much as anything, it's about how to grow as a person and cultivate wisdom wherever and whenever you can. Thankfully, this means being much less than perfect.

So you aren't perfect. How do you tell your kids to "Do as I say, not as I do"?

This means being vulnerable with your kids. And it means having a back-and-forth conversation instead of a one-way lecture.

Here is an example of what you might say: "Look, I'm not the most non-prejudiced person in the world. But I think it's important to fight through prejudice, which is why we need to talk about cultural differences. And again, I'm not perfect, so as we talk, I imagine I'll learn as much from you as you will from me."

Now you have the opportunity to model the really important stuff. Taking in feedback without getting overly defensive, tolerating confusion and ambiguity, staying open and curious.

And here's the hidden payoff: Not only will your teen-ager gain from these kind of open conversations, but so will you. If you've told your kids to budget or respect differences, you'll probably start to do better at these things yourself. You'll become a better person. And that's what healthy families do; they make each other better people.

And it's a two-way street, as much kid-to-parent as parent-to-kid.

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