By Justine Ickes
Like lots of women, 30-something Teresa Barile still remembers getting her ears pierced. "The best part was that I got my grandmother's gold earrings from Italy. I was only 12 but I felt so grown-up and proud to be receiving a part of our family history."
In every child's life there are moments like these. For my 7-year-old son, Jason, the big day came last summer when he learned how to build and light a campfire. As his parents, we made sure that he didn't just learn about matches and fire safety; he also learned about responsibility. The next time we go camping, he'll be in charge of making the fire, with his dad's help, of course.
Family educators and youth experts know that rites of passage like Teresa's and Jason's are essential for healthy youth development. "Kids need to feel that they are a part of something larger than themselves," says Ruth Ettenberg Freeman, licensed clinical social worker and founder of Positive Parenting. "Parents can help by identifying every day rites of passage and creating family rituals to celebrate them. This helps tremendously with kids' self-worth, with peer pressure, and with keeping them from engaging in risky behaviors."
The trouble is many families today are caught up in what amounts to a game of "rites of passage Monopoly" where all a kid needs to do is "Pass Go," hit a milestone birthday, and collect a privilege. But instead of basing privileges on age, Freeman recommends that parents communicate their expectations and set up clear behavioral benchmarks for everyone in the family. "Parents should set up a system of things that kids need to achieve that will tell everyone -- the parents and the kids -- that they're ready for the privilege," says Freeman.
Want to create more meaningful family rituals and help your children develop personal responsibility along the way? Here are 7 ideas to get you started:
In our house we have a rule: No lace-up shoes until you can tie them yourself. This has eliminated the morning melt-downs and really helped motivate our two boys. We let Jason and Liam practice on our shoes. Once they've learned how, they'll get to pick out a pair of new sneakers.
When it comes to milestones, parents and kids usually think of the big-ticket items: starting kindergarten, turning 13, getting your driver's license. But, the seemingly insignificant triumphs matter just as much. Did your 6-year-old finally learn to flip a pancake? Celebrate with a special "all-you-eat" breakfast cooked by your young chef.
For Linda Stephens, mom to two tweens, straight-talk is essential. "My son was 8 when he first brought up the subject of dating," says Linda. "He giggled when I asked what he meant by 'date.' I told him that when he's able to have a serious conversation about dating that's when I'll know he's mature enough. Until then, no dating." Click here to read the rest of the list.