Last month I read an article entitled, “Ron Howard once explained why Opie’s attitude changed after the first season of The Andy Griffith Show.”
One little segment of the article grabbed my attention.
What would happen if Opie knew that Andy was smarter than him? How about if Opie actually respected his dad? I just thought it might be different.’
I’m betting you never knew that Ron Howard’s dad, Rance, influenced the show to completely change how Opie behaved, especially with Andy. It’s some valuable insight on parental wisdom.
Every parent is challenged by kids who think they know more than they do, and who think they understand more than they do.
Research tells us the human brain isn’t fully developed until around the age of 25. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center website, the rational part of a teen’s brain works very differently than adults. Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the rational part of the brain. That’s the part of the brain that provides good judgment. Without that, you’ll never lean toward wisdom. It’s the part of your brain that calculates the long-term consequences. Teens live by processing things with the emotional part of their brain. In their brains, the connection between rational and emotional is still developing. That’s why teens live drama-filled lives. It’s also why they’re often unable to explain what they were thinking. “What were you thinking?” asks every parent! They don’t know because they weren’t thinking so much as they were feeling.
Parenting is hard. Really hard.
Grandparenting is way easier.
Partly because we now have a perspective we lacked when we were young. We can see things we’d have done differently. Plus, the burden of all the child-rearing decision making isn’t on us. When that pressure isn’t there on a daily basis…it changes everything. And that distance from these kids we love provides a mutual viewpoint – the way they see us and the way we see them – that serves us both. We’re able to model behavior so they have a role model to remember. They’re able to keep us lively and maintain sight of what it’s all about. That life is mostly about how much value we can provide one another.
As kids grow up, they hopefully become increasingly aware of how self-control looks. Teens are impulsive. Adults should not be. Instead, we hope to display thoughtful intentions to our kids. We want them to see that we’re making decisions with a long-term view. That’s why we don’t buy stupid crap. It’s why we save. It’s why we behave responsibly. We hope by showing our kids what wise behavior looks like, they’ll embrace their own lives of wisdom.
But that question that serves as the title of today’s show is fascinating. What would happen if kids knew their parents were smarter than them?
Sadly, I know some parents who aren’t smarter than their kids. Well, to be more accurate, they don’t behave smarter than their kids. Parents who are colossally selfish, highly emotional, short-term thinkers given to consistent impulsive behavior. What do their children think? Better yet, what do they feel?
I can only theorize, but it can’t be good for the parent. In what surely should be one of the most important relationships on the planet, kids should grow up respecting their parents not because it’s demanded (or just because God commands it) but because the parents behave in a way to warrant it. Too many don’t. They betray their children and forfeit respect.
The more I thought about the question the more I kept turning it around a bit. What would happen if parents were smarter than their kids and acted like it? Then, in keeping with the theme of this podcast I changed “smarter” to “wiser.”
What would happen if parents were wiser than their children and acted like it?
What would that look like? For the parents? For the children?
Rance Howard knew his son’s TV character, Opie Taylor, would behave more respectfully toward his TV dad, Andy. It would also change how Andy behaved toward his TV son. Turns out it did…and it wasn’t such a subtle change. Mostly because Rance Howard focused on one thing he felt was powerfully important as a parent and a child, R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
It’s the bottom line way to ask the question of our time together today. What would happen if parents and children had mutual respect for one another? What would happen if children didn’t think their parents were moronic baffoons? What if parents thought how and what their children felt was worth understanding?
Too much to ask for? You think?
Permit an aging father to harken back to when my children were small. And permit me to tell those of you listening who may not yet know this about me – I’m a man of faith. God, the Bible and the Lord’s Church are supremely important. Just here some of you are thinking, “Here we go. He’s a religious nut who raised his kids to be members of his cult.” 😀 Quite the contrary. Questions were fostered. And that’s why I bring up this particular point of context.
Some parents embrace and bark quite loudly about the religious training of children. “Let THEM decide,” they shout. But they don’t let their children decide other, more mundane things. I know parents who barely let their children decide what sport they’d like to play.
I bring this up because it’s a very emotionally charged topic making it suitable for thought-provoking dialogue. Also, because I look back and know my wife and I got this whole respect thing right. So it’s worth revisiting with you for whatever benefit you may be able to gain. If you’re not religious, then replace that topic with the one you prefer. Politics? Morality? You decide.
We’re church-going folks. Rather than ram anything down the throats of our children we talked about it. Mostly our conversations revolved around one big question: WHY?
Why were we church-going people? Why did we attend the church we attended? Why did we believe what we believed? What was the source of religious authority for us? No questions were off-limits. Absolutely none.
By the time our children were in middle school they have asked a million questions. Well, I wasn’t keeping count, but it had to be close. They weren’t coerced or pressured. They were taught and trained, which is what every responsible parent does for their children. My wife and I taught them to be respectful to their teachers and classmates. We taught them to be appropriately cautious and equally, to be appropriately adventurous. We taught them to ask questions, although like most kids – that came quite naturally to their curious minds. Something we tried to always foster – their curiosity.
We were never the parents who held that “because I told you so” philosophy – although I admit it was ridiculously tempting on those days when it felt like we’d answered 1,000 questions. Dialogue and conversation was the order of every day. And that respect thing always fueled those conversations to sound more like adult-to-adult conversations. We were the parents who NEVER engaged in baby talk even when our kids were babies. (I still throw up a little bit in my mouth when I hear baby talk, but that’s a personal bias I have)
Our children respected us because we first respected them.
Our children knew we were smart because we recognized their smartness. We each proved our intellect daily to one another. As their parents, we proved our sense of good judgment every single day to our children. They saw our decision-making. They understood it, too – because we happily explained it. No major decisions were made by us in isolation. The kids were always involved, even if they didn’t always get a vote.
Whether it was religious, school, news, morality, philosophy or anything else — we fostered deep, ongoing dialogue. No question was foolish or stupid. In fact, we spent considerable time answering the unasked questions – the ones we felt should be asked. Remember, we were the adults in the relationship so we were the leaders!
And that brings up something else very important – leadership. Parents serve their children. It’s leadership at the highest level. Our children weren’t there to serve us. We owed them. They didn’t owe us. Well, to be fair…they only owed us the respect we deserved as their parents because of the respect we gave them first.
Our lives centered on our children. That’s how it should be. Together we were four individual people operating – sometimes more successfully than at other times – as one family unit.
That’s how it went until they were no longer children. And along the path of growing up – my wife and I also grew up. We grew up in the sense that at each age my wife and I embraced the growth of our children. Letting go wasn’t hard for us. We did it at every step of the journey.
Leaning Toward Wisdom began as documentation I could create for my children and future grandchildren (I didn’t have any when I began). Passing along life lessons. That was the goal. It still is.
The curiosity that once ruled my house when the kids were small still lives. Today, it’s alive in the kids of my kids. But it’s alive in my life and my wife’s life, too.
Respect isn’t always what it should be. I don’t suppose it ever is. Mostly because people love to judge. And because sometimes things happen that cause people to lose their way – and sometimes to lose themselves.
Life happens. Sometimes the toll is high. Sometimes our own foolishness puts us in a spin where we’re unable to grab the controls of our lives and prevent from hitting the oncoming mountain. But as parents, it’s our job to help our children stay safe, learn wisdom and learn respect – for themselves and for others. And in my house, for God, too.
What would happen if kids knew their parents were smarter than them?
I can answer it. They’d accelerate their learning. The kids would most benefit. Far more than their parents. But both would grow. Hopefully, together. And embrace the respect that would serve kids and parents to have a solid relationship the rest of their lives. How cool would that be?