So Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, if you believe the National Enquirer, have totally lost control of their children, and are now instituting a sort of “boot camp” to try and get them back in line. That the story first popped up in the Enquirer gave me pause; I waited to read the boot camp would be run by one of the two-headed aliens that Will met shooting one of the Men In Black movies, but then I realized that Will and Jada are parents, just like the rest of us. When I remembered that inalienable fact, suddenly the whole thing became more plausible.
Okay, the toys are a little different. And when my kid whips her hair back and forth (and whips her hair back and forth), there’s not a crew making a multi-million dollar music video about it; she just gets dizzy, staggers around and nearly knocks over the china cabinet.
But in some ways, it’s almost reassuring that this kind of stuff happens to superstar parents as well. Sure, your kids will probably never get grounded because they blew off homework and hung out with Jay-Z until all hours of the night, but if you strip away the excess, the problems are basically the same. We can agree to disagree about whether or not Will and Jada have done the right thing by grooming teenage superstars under their own roof; but I’ve had it suggested to me that when celebrity parents have celebrity kids, more often than not they appear to have reasonably level-headed childhoods.
One of the things no one can argue with is Will Smith’s work ethic – it’s widely recognized that very few people work as hard as he does – and to me, it sounds like Will grew up the way I did. And it’s a lesson I think for parents, is invaluable. Will told 60 Minutes that one summer, his Dad tore down a brick wall in the front of his business, and told Will and his brother to rebuild it – a job they said was impossible. It took a year and a half – and, I assume, a great deal of whining, wailing and gnashing of teeth – but when it was finished, the elder Smith said, “Now don’t you ever tell me that there’s something you can’t do.” That kind of parenting isn’t going to earn you a pile of “Likes” on Facebook from your kid, or your kid’s friends. But I can think of about a dozen lessons your kids will learn from experiences like that, that’ll last a lifetime.
Where the Smith family ran into parenting issues is beyond me, because the Enquirer will never give me enough insight into their life to even have a clue what actually goes on behind the scenes (nor is it any of my business, although one might suggest the spotlight itself might be one of the first places to check as a source of the drama). But from the people I’ve been talking to, here’s a regimen that seems to work more often than it fails:
Teach accountability – Set goals for them that are just beyond their level of either interest or capability; clearly define your expectations and impose consequences for failure. The world doesn’t have “fuzzy” boundaries, so neither should the rules you set out for them at home. But don’t reward them for picking the low-hanging fruit. Challenge them, and do it often.
Make time count – You’ve got a limited amount of time to give them a lifetime worth of lessons and skills. Maximize it. Play a sport with them, or take on an activity together. Use the time to talk to them, and to really get to know each other.
Remember that the word “parent” is also a verb – You’ve heard countless stories where a successful person reflected on their life and said a version of, “When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to be finished [activity X], but my parents insisted, and am I ever glad they did.” Contrast that with the number of successful people who’ve said, “I never learned any important lessons as a kid. I grew up in front of the TV, and my parents really had no impact on my life at all.” There’s a reason you’re so familiar with the former, and rarely – if ever – hear the latter.