This dad says let kids experiment — self expression is part of figuring out who they really are.
Today more parents than ever are vigilant about their children, including their online and offline activities. I know as a father of 11 and 13 year old daughters (as well as a 21 year old son) I look at the choices both the parents and children need to make and the blitzkrieg of options, influences and choices is astounding. Today’s parents are asked to respect the choices of the children more then ever so they are not oppressed in their childhood. Yet, once the predators loom over their heads we find that difficult to do. Especially as a father of daughters, I’m torn between protector of the innocent and doorman to the world.
I reflect back on my own childhood. At 13 I started to enjoy some heavier brands of music and expressed myself by growing my hair long. My parents, a father who was a blue collar construction worker, a former submariner, and Navy SEAL, and my mother, a banking professional, allowed me to do this. They could have been much stricter (and by the sounds of it should have), they could have said and affirmed a resounding “NO”. They didn’t though. They knew early on that this was something I needed to explore. They respected the decision while keeping a close eye on me. That was their role, to not hinder my growth, but instead allow it to flourish. Hey it works for animals in the wild. Those wild animals, though they still protect the young, give the offspring room to stretch, sometimes enough to allow them to burn their fur near a fire, but always there to pull them back if necessary.
I was not always popular in this decision. Think The Breakfast Club, I was Judd Nelson (with better hair). That distance between myself and some of the more popular parties taught me about being an outcast. I was ok, I made friends, I was myself.
Through those trials and tribulations, I experienced life, I made mistakes, I gained confidence in myself. It has made all of the difference in the man that I have become, and am still becoming. By being myself, the man who is comfortable in his own skin, I have found that there are also ways to hone that expression, like a finally tuned instrument.
In my early twenties I cut the hair off and joined the corporate race, elevating myself within the ranks of multiple organizations with ease, though also a lot of hard work. In the beginning I felt like a fraud, or a chameleon blending into the background. I kept with me the knowledge of who I was, which always helped me to be the strong and confident man in that environment. As a leader I possessed the internal authority and outward confidence that was needed.
Fathers and mothers, allow your children to be themselves, allow them to explore different ways of dressing (yep, I still don’t get Goth, but at least it solves the problem for them of having to match colors, which still irks me today), put on makeup or nail polish, color their hair or wear it in a style you deem as strange. The person, your little person, is yearning to be somebody the world needs to see.
Understandably, the flip side is when we allow them to express themselves we must also be that Papa or Mama Bear, ready to pull them back, but let them get a little singed first. By supporting them, you are laying the ground work for a more stable, more resilient individual.
Isn’t that our desire? To create a path for our children that is lined with good intentions?
Then give them the yellow brick of strength.
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Photo: Getty Images (additional photos author’s own)