One of the key enablers to instilling principles and traits in our children is being consistent with the key points/messages conveyed to them during these critical shaping years. Additionally, key messages have to be reinforced routinely and as opportunities arise at every subsequent phase of their growth. This has to begin with identifying the core messages that are to be established and reinforced.
I have written about making the plan and cumulative effect, both of which complement the principles of consistency and reinforcing a given message. Those were relatively general with a spattering of examples. I want to use this post to explain one of my most critical responsibilities as a father and how I went about fulfilling that responsibility.
One of the core responsibilities of a father is to protect his family. This is not simply physical protection but spans the mental and emotional aspects as well. One of my core philosophies was to preclude anything catastrophic from happening (at a minimum) before my girls left the house. I defined this as them avoiding sex, alcohol, abuse and drugs, as well as the negative consequences associated. I tagged an acronym (maybe it is the Army in me) to help instill these tenants in them. The mnemonic was “Don’t be SAAD,” with each letter representing one of those areas – (no) Sex, (no) Alcohol, (no) Abuse, (no) Drugs.
I used this acronym to introduce discussions when applicable. I had an “elementary” and “graduate” edition, which I used before they left the house (elementary) and when they were about to leave (graduate). The elementary edition included a consistent message about not having sex before graduating high school; no underage drinking; proactively avoiding abuse – sexual, physical, emotional; and no experimenting with drugs or associating with people who do. I consistently reiterated these principles, and any instance where I could give an example of what could happen if any were compromised was taken. Examples included television shows, movies, happenings at school as well as local and national news where I could trace to a tenet to help talk about ramifications.
I deliberately was consistent with my message throughout high school – no sex, no alcohol, no drugs. And we particularly were keen on not only no abuse of any kind but avoiding situations where they were particularly vulnerable.
Once the girls were on the precipice of leaving the house, and the umbrella of protection afforded by me was about to be removed, I reworked the message to keep practical. I removed the “no” from sex because typically people have pre-marital sex (though abstinence may be a parental preference). Also removed the “no” from alcohol as once of legal age there is no reason to artificially deny the partaking of an adult beverage, but doing it in moderation is important. However, the “no” remained for drugs and especially abuse. These were slightly adjusted due to the lack of a filter, and the dependence on their ability to read the conditions and not put themselves in vulnerable positions. This included being mindful when they drink, be perceptive about abusive indicators and set standards for friends and their conduct with/around them.
This was my way of performing this critical responsibility, including the establishment of core tenets and then consistently explaining my views and reinforcing those points when possible. If you had not thought through such an approach, I invite any father of daughters to apply such tactics as well.