In a strange twist of events, I was included in a social media group of “influencers” a couple years ago. I say influencers with air quotes because I barely knew what one was, let alone considered myself among their ranks. Even now, when I receive the occasional invitation to spread the word about something, I feel like an imposter—at least in the circles they’re considering.
There is one platform, however, where I do consider myself a vital influencer (minus the air quotes); that’s within the walls of my own home with my children. I may not have a lot to say to the world at large, but I have plenty of parental influence with the people I love the most. And that’s worth taking seriously.
What’s Out There
A quick internet search of the most powerful influencers on Instagram reveals several makeup artists, fashion gurus, skilled videographers, comedians, and travel and lifestyle experts. There is even a dancing Spiderman whose identity is a mystery and a cute little hedgehog (Yes! I said hedgehog!?!) with 1.3 million followers who travels the globe influencing the masses.
But am I excited about leaving my kids’ values, priorities, world views, and future in the hands of these unknown, untested “influencers” just because they claim to have the answers? The short answer is no. I’m not.
The good news is I don’t have to. Turns out that, contrary to what the internet would have us believe, parents are the greatest influence in their kids’ lives. Just think about how your parents influenced you and how important that is in your life now. With a little effort, we can influence our kids in the most meaningful ways just by showing up, taking an interest, and being involved.
Talk the Talk
Want to let your kids know how you feel about important social, political, religious, and interpersonal issues? Communicate with them. Often. Don’t assume that just because you share the same living space that they know your feelings and expectations on the things that matter most. You have to tell them.
With younger kids, start small. Communication doesn’t have to be heavy, long-winded, or over their heads to be effective. But young children might surprise you with their grasp of important concepts delivered simply. Even a young toddler can learn the importance of being kind to others if we communicate it to them often.
Then, as they grow older, include them in more involved conversations. Don’t shy away from the tough stuff. Ask plenty of questions. And listen. A lot. You’d be surprised how much you can learn and how far your parental influence can go, just by leaving the communication lines open.
Here are a few things you might talk about:
- House rules/expectations
- Peer Pressure
- Substance use/abuse
- Sexual intimacy
- Body image
- Healthy lifestyles
- Technology use/abuse
Encourage your kids to be part of the important conversations. Include them in family discussions and, as they get older, invite them to be a part of critical decisions and expectations. The more comfortable they feel talking to you, the more they’ll listen to what you have to say. In fact, they may even start the conversations.
Walk the Walk
Parents’ influence on children goes beyond words. As parents, we have to walk the walk. We have to model good behavior if we really want to impact our kids in positive ways. Sometimes that means setting expectations, then holding our kids to them. Sometimes it means practicing the values we want to instill. Sometimes it means taking responsibility for mistakes and making things right.
I work with teenagers a lot. If there is one thing I’ve learned over the years, both with my own kids and many others, it’s that they can smell a hypocrite a mile away. I don’t know what it is, but they have this innate ability to cut through the things we say and home in on the things we do (or don’t do). Our actions are blinking neon signs, telling our kids what we value. And they’re watching. All the time. So, if we want to have a positive parental influence on our kids, we have to live the things we say.
Here are a few things we can do to make an impact in the lives of our kids:
- Keep a positive attitude. It’s tough being a kid these days. Help them see they’re going to make it by the way you act.
- Choose your friends wisely. Modeling good friendships and other relationships will help your kids see how to get along with spouses, neighbors, community members, and others.
- Choose good behaviors. If you’re really worried about how your children present themselves, interact with others, see themselves, feel about physical, emotional, and mental health, view substance or technology use, or any number of important activities, behave the way you hope they will.
You’ve Got This
Your daughter may learn a thing or two about applying the perfect eyeliner from an Instagram influencer. And your son may become an expert at creating funny video clips from the guy online. But if you take an active interest, you can and will be the most important influencer your kids will turn to as they navigate the tricky toddler, tween, and teen years of growing up.