While taking a stroll around my neighborhood the other day I heard the familiar revving of a lawnmower and as I rounded the corner I saw a nostalgic scene of a father coaching his preteen daughter through her first time mowing the lawn. As an oldest child myself, this momentous occasion was not lost on me; it almost stopped me right in my tracks! I was beaming for her as if she had just won an Oscar, and I exchanged a head-nod and smile with her father (truthfully, I was giving him a standing ovation in my mind).
As a prevention specialist, and former lawn-mowing daughter myself, I knew I was witnessing much more than a lesson in landscaping. This father was providing his daughter an opportunity to deepen her involvement within their family unit, which would reap great dividends, beyond just a polished lawn.
Watching this father-daughter exchange instantly transported me to one of my preteen summers, sitting on our riding lawnmower for the first time as my father pointed out the optimum speed to keep the mower at within the turtle to rabbit range (there was literally a picture of a turtle and a rabbit at opposing ends of the mower’s speed gauge).
For me, the memory of those speed indicators is inextricably linked to Aesop’s fable, The Tortoise and the Hare, where the moral of the story is: Slow and steady wins the race. I’m not here to focus on the horsepower (or hare-power, as it were) of a lawnmower...no, I’m talking about how slowing down and providing regular opportunities for children to contribute within their families can bring about some big wins.
Young people who are exposed to more opportunities to participate meaningfully in the responsibilities and activities of the family are less likely to engage in drug use and other problem behaviors
The Student Health And Risk Prevention (SHARP) survey results highlight a long-standing research finding about the benefits of giving youth such opportunities: “Young people who are exposed to more opportunities to participate meaningfully in the responsibilities and activities of the family are less likely to engage in drug use and other problem behaviors” (Utah’s 2019 SHARP survey results, p. 67).
Providing meaningful opportunities for prosocial involvement within the family generally does require slowing down to:
- Recognize such an opportunity
- Teach the youth the related skills
- Allow the youth to practice (with your support)
- Give recognition, praise, and encouragement to the youth
It’s natural for parents to want to enter rabbit-speed/efficiency-mode by completing a home or family responsibility themselves. Could the previously mentioned fathers have finished mowing their lawns in half the time it took to teach and support their daughters? Absolutely. However, by keeping the long-term goal in mind, parents are better able to slow down and consistently provide meaningful opportunities to help their children feel valued and bonded to their family. Doing so increases the likelihood of children adhering to healthy standards of behavior that you desire, and model, for them.
So, go ahead, feel the thrill of kicking your lawnmower up to rabbit-speed every now and then…but remember, within our families, slow and steady wins the race.