Saturday, January 21, 2012

The path-of-least-resistance parent

Information on parenting is like that on climate change: there’s a helluva lot of it out there, and most of it is fairly accurate and helpful but some is woefully irresponsible and strung together on dodgy pretexts. Such articles go against common sense, but people cling to them because they want an excuse not to take the tougher path — they want a let-off.

I just ran into one of these disastrous parenting articles on the Guardian website. It’s written in the style of an opinion piece, but it’s posted in the Parents & Parenting section, and thus imbued with pseudo legitimacy.

What’s the betting this girl will be allowed to study in peace?

Annalisa Barbieri has decided there is a trend towards strict parenting leading to ‘mindlessly compliant’ teens. There is no such trend. Further, she has declared that if a child is well-behaved that is a cause for concern. Well, if it was a Stepford son or daughter, perhaps. But the trend is quite the opposite of how she describes it.

Single-digit kids are getting in trouble with police, tweens are committing serious, even capital, crimes and teens are jacking in their education, becoming strangers to their parents and harming themselves and others. And this is not one-off instances sensationalised by an outrage-fuelled press — although that happens too — it’s good kids I’ve known personally. That is the trend. who are subject to peer pressure at its worst are kids whose parents taught them to do what they're told.

No — the kids who are bullying them are the ones who’ve realised they can gain great enjoyment from doing so without significant consequence — because they’ve been allowed to get away with murder.

The balanced approach

So what is the right approach? Seen and not heard, and a spoon to the head if they step out of line? Obviously not.

You need to be paying attention. You need to put your energies into good parenting all the time you are looking after kids. It’s like driving — you don’t do it when drunk or over-tired. Yes, I know what you’re going to say: you have to work 23 hours a day to pay for that new 4x4 or house extension and a drink when you get home is your only treat. Well, you’re a bad parent. Make different choices.

That positive energy from you when your kid is broadly meeting expectations will be interpreted as what it is — the actions of a loving parent. If their inner brat starts to ruin things then it’s time for consequences and lack of attention from you ... consistently, because you’re not allowing anger to sway your decisions — just as a good driver doesn’t succumb to road rage.

Be interested in how they’re thinking; feed their thirst for knowledge. Don’t think ‘Gah — another bloody question on evolution; why can’t they ask their flaming teacher!’ Enjoy the privilege of being the person they want to turn to. But don’t try to be their best friend at the expense of good parenting. No — they can’t write on the wall, but you’ll patiently facilitate their free expression elsewhere.

Once you have this positive, loving, yet defined relationship in place everything will pretty much take care of itself up until the dawn of the teens. That’s why they call them foundations — something solid to build on.

Image: Inspirestock Inc. / Alamy



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