I had to laugh the other day when I read this title; “Parenting the Kids of Today.” In five words it summed up one of the biggest problems that parents run into when raising their children. There is this belief that children are in some significant way different than they used to be. In fact, they are so different than they used to be that we need thousands of parenting books and therapists to tell us how to raise them.
They are so different, that our grandparents would have no idea of how to deal with them if they were their children. They are so different …. blah, blah, blah. Our children are not what have changed; how we parent has changed. The more we have bought into this fallacy of children being different, the more we have redefined what is meant as good parenting . . .
And things have gotten worse.
Here is an example that I see quite often. With regularity I am asked by parents of middle and high school age children; “Do you think it is OK to let Johnny do . . . ?” There is a real struggle to figure out just what is reasonable or acceptable to allow our children to do. Parents are constantly assessing what freedoms and privileges they can grant their kids. Why is this so difficult?
I would suggest that the difficulty comes from the relationship between freedom and responsibility. In other words, when someone demonstrates responsibility, they typically get more freedom. Our problem today is that we are too focused on the freedom end of things and not focused enough on the responsibility. This is not how it used to be.
For many generations it was a foregone conclusion that as a kid, you had jobs and obligations. The older you got, the more you were responsible for. As I heard it put recently, our job as parents is to do, and only do what our children cannot do for themselves. The older our children become, the more they should be handling for themselves and the less we should be doing for them. Our job is to become unnecessary.
When we have achieved that, we have raised capable young adults. As we see those capabilities growing and being established, freedom and privileges come naturally. We don’t have to ask what we should let them do . . . we know what they can handle. We don’t have to listen to well-meaning but misguided professionals telling us to give them the opportunity to build trust . . . they have already built it. It is natural to trust what we have seen a consistent demonstration of.
Example: Johnny gets his learners. Every time he gets in the car with his parents, they make him drive. He drives everywhere and in every situation. When the time comes for Johnny to get his actual license, he has driven not 40 hours, he has driven 400 hours. With his brand new license in hand he asks to take the car to the store and Mom does not process “Hmm, should I let him drive?” She asks him to pick up bread, and yes, she says be careful . . . she is still his mom. His demonstration of responsibility made the allowance of freedom a natural event.
How do we change the trend? First we have to accept that as a culture we are raising ill-equipped young adults. Secondly we begin to give our children responsibilities in life. As they age, they have more responsibilities and many of them are for the benefit of others in the family. Through this we begin to equip our children. The result is a much higher sense of self-confidence (much preferred over high self-esteem) and a healthy awareness of how we relate to others in our life. When our children have a lot of responsibilities, they begin to demonstrate genuine responsibility. Those kids do not complain about freedom, they have plenty.