Guest post: The collapse of parenting

Collapse of parentingOne week away from the big move I’m afraid I’m pretty far from being the best parent at the moment (iPads, Ben & Holly and chocolate bribes have all featured quite a bit over the last few weeks as we pick our way through boxes). However, my Dad shared his thoughts on a parenting book he read which struck a chord with him and I thought it would make a good post. I like the sound of the book, so I’ll definitely seek it out (once we’ve unpacked).

I always like having my opinions confirmed by someone else, particularly if they are an expert on the subject. That’s just happened to me and so I thought I’d let you know that someone out there appears to agree with me on the vexed subject of child-rearing. He’s Dr Leonard Sax the author of a book ‘The Collapse of Parenting‘ in which, in my simple terms, he suggests that the pendulum has swung too far in one direction as parents seek to give their children a more relaxed upbringing than their own.

We’ve talked before about how bringing children up has become increasingly difficult, indeed your mother and I marvel at the skills of many modern parents. The pressure on parents to get things right in an increasingly complex world has increased massively. The world is faster-paced and with the rise of social media allows less time for direct social interaction. Peer pressure has always been a problem but is now one that is in danger of spiralling out of control as naming and shaming and peer rejection are no longer circumscribed by time and place.

As you know from first hand I can claim no special child-rearing abilities. I believe that a parent’s prime responsibility is to the next generation; that’s not to say I don’t want to be treated kindly by you as I age! A parent’s first duty must be to those who follow by giving them the skills and confidence they need to take their place in this increasingly complex world and ‘to teach them the rules of the culture they live in’.

Dr Sax suggests that this is best done by adults giving children a well-defined framework and set of rules: and by treating them as children rather than equals and mini-adults or even ‘friends’. I know from experience that this requires determination and no doubt risks unpopularity.

How is this relevant to the very young and what does it mean in practical terms? Setting a consistent set of rules and expectations from the start establishes the framework for the future. Children grow knowing their parents’ expectations. This may make their acceptance of rules at a later stage easier but it won’t make the parent’s decisions popular!

What are these unpopular decisions? Well basically they centre around parents determining what is appropriate for their children not just when they are very young but crucially as they grow older. This will often no doubt be against the wishes of the child.

One of the most important tasks in the early years is developing a child’s self control and conscientiousness. It may be easier to let children be waited on and not require that they take on tasks, but making sure at from an early age that they have responsibilities and that they discharge them to the best of their abilities provides a valuable grounding.

Inculcating self-esteem is important but it needs to be balanced by a sense of humility and a willingness to listen to others. It is crucial in my opinion for children to realise that they can fail at some things and to accept this whilst being willing to ‘give it another go’. Telling children constantly how clever they are or how beautiful is no doubt done from the best intentions but can build unrealistic expectations and lead to heartache later.

Children need to be guided by their parents; good parents really do know best, for example about bedtimes and limiting the use of TV and social media, and are right in requiring respect from their children both for themselves and others.

I know that you do try already to do all of the above. As the children get older it will be more tempting to treat them as your “friends” as they increase the pressure with the mantra ‘but everyone else….’ and you will question whether by acting as a ‘parent’ you are helping or hindering their development, Dr Sax (and I) would say ‘stick with it’, they will be much better friends when they’re really grown up.

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