As an ongoing parentee and a candidate parenter, I’m fascinated by the discourse, between the purveyors of parenting, the folks on the front line, and the people who study it academically. Where do their opinions line up, where do they differ, and in what ways has my personal success been affected by it all.
Disclaimer: My parents, both of whom read this blog, are loving, caring, and supportive. Neither is perfect, but you can’t argue with results am I right? I’m even good at keeping my ego in check! (That’ll be important later. You’ll see.)
My Facebook feed was recently graced with an article from the Huffington Post entitled “Five Big Discoveries About parenting in 2012” and I, hopelessly devoted to the scientific method, jumped at the chance to see the many ways in which common sense, folksy wisdom, and good intentions have left me unable to cope with the difficult century ahead. I was not disappointed. Before we begin: parents, you can not use how great your kids are as a measure of your parental success. All parent’s think their kids are great. Now that that’s out of the way, here’s my breakdown of all five points:
#1 As freedom wanes in children so does creativity.
The article states that since the late 1980s the creativity of North American children has been in steady decline. When individual children are examined, there is a strong correlation between freedom and creativity.
Now at this point parents and children alike will be patting themselves on the back saying either “I gave my children…” or “My parents gave me enough freedom to be creative and enough rules and structure to learn discipline and the value of hard work.” Maybe, maybe not. There was no study on discipline and hard work. But you have to live with the knowledge that you would have more fresh, new ideas if your parent’s hadn’t been so strict with the bedtime or had let you wear your favourite Ninja Turtles shirt to school every single day. For me, this point simply proves what I’ve thought for years, that hard working A+ students all rise directly to unfulfilling middle-management positions while the stoned poets and social rejects all end up either ruling the world or waiting tables.
#2 Overly coddled children grow into incompetent adults.
Kids that are told that everything they do is wonderful, that they are special, and that they can do anything in life, can end up dysfunctional. Basically, self-esteem has to be earned and not gifted. Kids who get self-esteem without ever earning it expect a lot and aren’t willing to challenge or modify themselves to get it.
This one really rung true with me. I belong to an entire generation of kids that was told that we can be whatever we want when we grow up. If the cliché is true, it’s a backlash against the pragmatic and realist parenting style of the generation before which put all of our parents into stable jobs with pensions and company cars all the while killing their hippie dreams. As it happens, we are also the generation that gets to swallow most of the fallout from the ongoing recession. That’s a big ugly pill for the millions of part-time baristas with degrees in humanities, music, or modern dance.
Parents also apparently should allow their kids to fail, suffer, and do dangerous things (You hear that mum? Mountain climbing is good for my psychological growth!) because that’s what builds genuine self-esteem. If it’s as bad as I think it is, my generation might actually be the end of western civilization.
#3 Fostering delinquency in our young by being too controlling
Authoritarian parents, parents who value obedience and discipline, are creating delinquent children.
That means that “Because I said So.” is actually a profoundly harmful answer to a child’s question. (I wish I had known this at fourteen.) It’s no surprise to me at all that parents who demand obedience raise disrespectful children who spit on authority. Parents who don’t value obedience end up with kids like yours truly who don’t so much spit on authority as much as believe that authority is a social construct designed to give the loud power over the smart. If you want your kids to respect you, explain your rules. If you can’t explain your rules, they’re bad rules and the kid wins. Hoorah! Sorry, did that get personal?
#4 Parents misread their child’s emotional cues.
Optimistic parents tend to think that their kids are optimistic while worried parents tend to think their kids are worried regardless of what the kids are thinking. Parents project their feelings onto their kids.
I remember going to sleep uncovered and waking up sweating under a heavy blanket. My mother had come along, seen be unswaddled, thought “I’ll bet he’s cold!” and covered me up. It never occurred to her that I actually considered my coverings before venturing into sleep. (Love you mom!)
Sometimes empathy is wholly hurtful. It’s a good thing to have but you can’t communicate with empathy alone. That’s why we invented language. It seems to me that a lot of parents normal empathy becomes grossly enlarged when empathizing with their own children. Timmy cuts his finger and mom screams in pain, Johnny doesn’t make the basketball team and dad is heartbroken. It is important to know that however good or bad you feel for your child, they’re feeling… well, whatever they are feeling: something else. This probably means also that parents don’t listen to their kids, which is a shame because they really do say the darnedest things.
#5 Being too afraid to joke around and have fun.
Joking, particularly using non-verbal cues like tone of voice, helps toddlers learn how to communicate.
Ever met a person who doesn’t know when you’re being sarcastic? Now we finally know who to blame! This, it seems to me, falls under the category of “Kids: they know more than you’d think”. As toddlers, they’re not only learning the words and syntax of language, they’re learning the subtext: every look, posture, tone of voice, and sound that makes up most of our communication. If you want to know how little of our communication is in language, try having an in-depth emotional conversation in texts. Irony is part of life and it seems that parents who avoid it are doing their toddlers a disservice.
I, like many of you, come from a long line of mothers and fathers. It’s easy to forget that when you’re thinking about your kids or your parents. It’s the big picture that makes me comfortable making this hilarious critique: the knowledge that every kid decided what his parents did wrong and swore never to repeat their mistakes only to discover, after raising his own family, a generations-worth of new mistakes already made. Someday my kids will be able to tell me all the things I did to mess them up.
Despite all this, I’m a contented, well-adjusted adult with a great relationship with both my parents and I’m intent on making a bunch more little mes to torment me the way I would torment me if only I knew me because the one constant, the one thing that will always be good for little ones, is kindness. When psychologists prove me wrong, I’ll sterilize myself and disown the scientific method.