how not to raise a jerk

5 Steps to Raising a Jerk

You’ve run into him before—you know the type. He goes off on the server because the meat was undercooked, and he loudly proclaims he’s not going to tip. Or maybe it’s the guy who stands in the checkout line and speaks loudly about how slow the clerk is and how he has places to go. To be specific, he’s a jerk.

Did you ever wonder how he got that way? Of course there’s no singular answer. But I do think there are some ways we can make it more or less likely that our kids will irritate the people around them. Here are 5 steps to raising a jerk.

1. Be a jerk.

The best way to raise a jerk is to be a jerk. Your kids learn more by watching you than by listening. Do you revel in irritating people you dislike? Perhaps your favorite thing to do is explain to your kids how people who disagree with you are idiots. While it’s possible your kids will opt for a different way, it’s more likely you’re paving the way for them to follow. If you’re curious how not to raise a jerk, the best way to begin is by not being one yourself.

2. Don’t do your work.

Look, we all have stuff. Maybe you have issues with anger or unforgiveness or trust. There’s no shame in that. You may have been dealt a difficult hand. Perhaps you experienced things in your life that no person should experience. You might have very good reasons for the anger and resentment you feel. And yet, whatever you don’t deal with, you will pass on to your kids. If you’re struggling with anger, unforgiveness, resentment, or shame, then see a therapist or talk to a pastor. Do what you have to do to move forward. If you’re curious how not to raise a jerk, do your work.

3. Make life all about your kid.

Your child has learned since early on that the world revolves around her—except it doesn’t. Part of your job as a parent is to work in a developmentally appropriate way to help your child slowly overcome her sense that she is the center of the universe. You need to help her think about how to serve other people, sacrifice for the sake of something bigger than herself, overcome obstacles. If you’re curious how not to raise a jerk, help her understand life isn’t all about her.

4. Complain about the coach.

I know, the coach has no idea what he’s doing (at least when the team loses). And of course you know exactly what needs to happen. Complaining about the coach doesn’t just communicate that the coach is wrong. It also teaches your kid that when things don’t go well, you need to find someone to blame. Right now it’s the coach. Later it might be the teacher or the boss or the president. The point is, there’s never any introspection or taking responsibility. But for your child to mature, he needs to learn to take ownership. If you’re curious how not to raise a jerk, help him take responsibility.

Healthy people make mistakes, own up to them, learn from them, and grow.

5. Don’t apologize.

Some people really struggle to admit when they’re wrong. Perhaps you’re one of them. The problem is you’re always wrong about something—you just don’t know what it is. So when you refuse to admit it, you become the kind of person who is incapable of learning from your mistakes. Meanwhile, everyone around you sees them clearly. Healthy people make mistakes, own up to them, learn from them, and grow. If you’re curious how not to raise a jerk, help your child learn to own up to her mistakes.

Sound off: What other choices can you make to help your child grow up to be a jerk?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What traits are common in people you consider jerks?”