“I learned it by watching you!”

In 1987, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America ran a commercial in which a father demands that his son reveal from whom he learned to do drugs. The teen finally blurts out, “I learned it by watching you!”

I don’t know if the ad had any effect on its intended audience of parents, but most of my fellow high school peers at the time laughed at the line and parodied it together when doing everything from juggling a soccer ball to adding parmesan to pizza. I can only imagine the eye-rolling it might elicit from today’s teens.

But there’s truth in advertising. Kids watch their parents. They take cues. They absorb messaging about acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. And teenagers’ collective ability to smell hypocrisy can boarder on the supernatural, whatever the subject matter.

Parents, as we think about the human beings we’re raising, let’s all remember to pay attention to our own behaviors and ask ourselves, “Are we modeling what we’re preaching?”

Example: If we spend more time looking at our phones than we do looking our family members in the eye, we can’t be surprised when our kids do the same.

How we treat our work, our family, our life, our careers, our free time, our health, etc., — our kids are watching. They’re learning it from us, whether or not they practice or even acknowledge it. And the same can be said for how we treat their college admissions process.

So let’s send the right messages. Let’s treat education as a process, not a means to an end. Let’s treat character traits as more important than test scores. Let’s treat their journey to college as an exciting time when they can learn and discover who they want to be, not as an academic arms race where admissions outcomes decide the winners and losers.

We’re on stage all the time. It doesn’t mean we have to be perfect (that’s not a healthy example, either). But it does mean we have to be mindful.

They’re learning by watching us.