Parent Communication: Alter Ego

XP3_AlterEgo_LgBannerAlter Ego

We’re Teaching This:

Everyone loves a superhero. Superman. Spiderman. Iron man. They swoop in and fight the bad guys, save the day, and somehow make their spandex suit look cool all at the same time. What would you do if you met one of these guys on the street? Pose for a selfie? Ask for an autograph? Probably none of the above. Chances are you wouldn’t you wouldn’t recognize Superman or Spiderman on the street.  Why? Because almost all superheroes have another side, their mild, unassuming, simply-not-as-awesome alter ego. Sure the public persona is amazing. But in their real, every-day life identity is rarely as impressive. In that way, we all have something in common with superheroes. There’s a public side of us. A super-identity that most of the world gets to see. We’re funny. We have friends. We’re confident. But deep in our hearts, we know there’s an alter ego—a less than super side that we’d rather hide away. As we take a closer look at three personality traits that often bury themselves in our alter egos, we find that God has something to say about each one that can free us from living a double-life.

Think About This:

What personal traits do you hope that you’ll pass on to your teenager? Work ethic? Responsibility? A good attitude? We all have parts of our own personalities that we hope and pray will surface one day in our students. If we’re honest, we probably have a few traits that we’d rather not pass along as well. In her article, “Help for Stressed Out Families”, author Kara Powell explores one personality trait that we may accidentally pass on to our students without even realizing it.

According to the Stress in America study conducted by the American Psychological Association, no parent is an island.  Our own stress trickles, or in some cases, gushes, through our family.  Some of the most interesting (and may I say personally convicting) findings include:

  • One-third of children surveyed between ages 8-17 believe their parent has been “always” or “often” worried or stressed out about things during the past month.
  • Four in 10 children report feeling sad when their parent is stressed or worried.
  • One-third of children (34 percent) say they know their parent is worried or stressed out when they yell. Other signs of parental stress perceived by children are arguing with other people in the house, complaining or telling children about their problems and being too busy or not having enough time to spend with them.
  • Nearly a third of children surveyed between ages 8-17 reported that in the past month, they experienced physical health symptoms that are often associated with stress such as sleep problems, headaches, and an upset stomach.

As disconcerting as those findings are, something else bothers me more.  The study also found that parents are largely unaware of their kids’ stress levels.

When it comes to handling just about every area of life, students take their cue from how they have seen their parents react. That’s why stressed out parents can sometimes unintentionally raise stressed out students. In the same way, parents who struggle with anger, selfishness,

shame, or other difficulties can likely pass those traits on without meaning to. No parent is perfect. We all have quirks, tendencies, and habits that we wish we would go away.  So what can you do to ensure that your personal struggles don’t accidentally trickle down to your student?

Share the struggle. One way to help your student avoid certain habits is to be honest (in an age-appropriate way) about the habits or tendencies that you wish you could change. And, let your student know how you’re working on it. Say something like, “Hey, I know that when I’m stressed out from work, I sometimes snap at the people around me. I know that isn’t okay and I’m working on having better boundaries so that work stress doesn’t become home stress.” Or maybe try something like, “I know you saw me yell at the cashier last week in anger. I’m really embarrassed that my temper was out of control and it’s something I’m working on. I’m going apologize to her when we buy groceries this week.”

Try This

Think about an aspect of your personality that you’d rather not pass on to your student. It may be helpful to focus on one that most affects your teenager. Now consider writing them a two or three sentence apology and leaving it in a place where they will find it. Include how you are working on this area of your life. Try to incorporate the following points as you write your apology:

  • Pinpoint the struggle (anxiety, selfishness, anger, insecurity, stress, etc…)
  • Apologize for the way you have seen it affect your teenager and/or your family.
  • Identify a way that you are working on overcoming that struggle.

For example:

Dear ________. I’ve noticed I have a tendency to act like my time is more important than everyone else’s. I’ve been late too often to your game/recital/practice.  That is really selfish and I’m sorry for how it has affected you. Please know that I’m working on becoming a better manager of time by downloading a calendaring app on my phone and scheduling reminders to help me leave on time.