BY VERONIQUE F. SAIYA
What better time than at the beginning of a new school year to ponder the question, “Who’s raising our children?” Hillary Clinton might have brought to fore the old African saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” but should it? Does this ringing motto not teach parents to be irresponsible when it comes to raising their own children?
When considering today’s youth, many people may call to mind a generation of walking, talking “ids” whose self-absorptions are rivaled only by their drive for immediate gratification. One wonders why for today’s children a profound sense of responsibility to themselves and others often seems lacking. We, as a society, have allowed our level of acceptable behavior to rise to incredible heights. Fifty years ago, students got in trouble for gum chewing, cutting in line, and talking out of turn. Today, they get in trouble for drugs, assault, pregnancy, and robbery. Who is to blame? Where did the failure occur? Astonishingly, the failure has occurred in our own homes.
Many parents will be quick to point out that the media and the educational system are to blame for this growing trend of irresponsibility. It is, indeed, a fact that the media possess enormous power to influence one’s thinking and behavior, as does education or the lack thereof. This typical parental response, however, calls for further examination and scrutiny.
Who exactly is raising our children? It sometimes seems that many parents do leave it to the television, the movie industry, the internet, the teachers, and the brass of marketing departments to determine our children’s emotional, physical, and psychological well being. In such cases, I fear for the well being of these “orphaned” children, whose parents seem to be either spineless or are being held captive by work, or both.
Neither the media nor teachers have the capacity to dispense loving discipline and morality to our children, but parents do and should. Nor does the media have the ultimate say in what forms of media our children participate in. We are the one’s with purchasing power. We are the one’s in control of the power button. And if we’re not, something is seriously amiss. There is an inherent flaw in the ideology followed by some parents today—believing that love equivocates to overindulgences and that allowing children freedom of expression equivocates to rampant permissiveness. The proverbial “what’s in it for me?” attitude of our youth comes as little surprise when examining the source—the parents.
Why does this way of thinking permeate many of today’s parenting styles? Perhaps the answer lies in our culture itself—a culture which chastises us for any critical analysis of our environment at the very expense of our belief systems. It is no longer acceptable to openly critique the morality of others—to go against the grain of political correctness. To do so has somehow transcended freedom of opinion and speech. It has come to mean that you are not just a person stating an opinion, but rather, you are a reprehensible violator of others; and therefore, do not deserve the most basic of constitutional rights.
We live in an era which as well-intentioned as it may be, has none the less thrown out the good with the bad. Grandma may well have been overly harsh and in some cases even abusive of children, but many parents have moved to the opposite extreme. Some parents have become paralyzed by the fear that even the slightest criticism could potentially scar their children for life. Parents have certainly been bombarded by a vast array of different and sometimes contradictory information by the field of psychology. It would be a misrepresentation by parents however, to say that psychology intended that parents not govern their children. No matter how confusing divergent psychological theories may be, parents must understand that these too are only opinions, and it is ultimately up to the parent and no one else, to provide guidance for their children in matters of acceptable behavior.
Another contributing factor to faulty parenting lies in the interrelationship of guilt and absenteeism. Lets face it, parents who have to work feel guilty about it, but it makes a bad situation worse to compensate for that absence with excessive permissiveness. Given the financial option I would hope that a parent would deem the well being of their child to be more important than extra money and a fulfilling career. Many parents however, do not have to fool themselves with excuses like little Tommy will reap the benefits of a bigger house, nicer car, and trendy clothes and toys, because many parents have no other choice but to work. That being the case, the most competent parents understand that there will be times when they must sacrifice their own comfort, personal time, and entertainment for the sake of some family time with their children.
In order to mold our children into respectable adults, we must seize every available opportunity to instill our own values into our children, teaching them to be responsible and moral individuals. Such an endeavor begins by building a rapport with our children; thereby creating an environment of love, trust, and mutual respect.
In order to achieve a rapport with our children, we must devote our time and energy to our children. Communication is a must. Communication at times should be purely relaxing and pleasurable— taking place on the child’s level during times of play and entertainment, meal times, outings, and other fun and special events, so that communicating isn’t always interpreted as a harrowing activity. However, all families need to hold meetings to have discussions of a more serious nature where the parent clearly communicates their expectations to the child. Responsibilities are crucial skill builders for real world preparation and applications. Children who are given responsibilities learn about integrity, consequences, societal relationships and expectations.
All communication regarding expectations should be accompanied by a discussion of consequences. Parents should never give consequences that they are not prepared to follow through on. To not follow through with established consequences often sends the child one or more of the following messages: you the parent are not dependable, you are not trustworthy, you are not to be believed, and/or you don’t care about them or their actions enough to pay the necessary attention to your parenting job. Consequences should always be proportionate and relatable to the action or lack of action taken by the child—they should make sense and be fair.
Depending on the topic, consequences may not be concrete, in other words they may take on more of an emotional, spiritual or psychological quality. In such cases, the purpose of your expectations are to prepare the child for the psychological consequences they may encounter if they choose to disregard such guidelines. Children should always be made aware of how their actions might adversely themselves, as well as other people—it lays the very ground work for the development of a conscience and a system of morality.
Communication is not a one way street. Your child needs to know who you are, what you stand for, what you believe in, what you enjoy, what you dislike, your philosophical and spiritual points of view, and everything that makes you, you. This type of communication fosters a feeling of mutual respect, trust, and love. When having these types of conversations, a parent should first consider whether or not what they are about to reveal is age appropriate. In other words, one must consider the intellectual and emotional maturity level of one’s child. Depending on this, a parent may have to taper their responses until the child is capable of handling a no-holes-barred approach. A parent should be a friend to their child—someone the child can share confidences with. On the other hand, at no time should an adult be completely on their child’s level, i.e., like a child themselves. To act like a kid may be some parents’ tactic for being more approachable, but this only serves to damage the child. Children need adults in their lives; they actually want discipline from a trusted adult. It is very frightening for a child to feel that they are the ones making all of the decisions, and they even grow to equate it with a lack of love. Children need an authority figure, someone who can keep them safe and to take care of the things they feel they, themselves, are incapable of handling.
Mothers and fathers first and foremost, must always be adult role models and think like parents. This means that parents should always contemplate and thoroughly examine how their life-styles and behaviors will affect their children. One should always consider that children will eventually grow up and inevitably adopt many of their parents’ characteristics and traits. While our young people may not make up 100% of our population, they are 100% of our future, and what could possibly be more important than that? It is never too late to start making a difference in a child’s life. What we do today creates our tomorrow. With that being said, let us not merely be participants in our children’s lives, rather let us be proactive leaders who shape our children’s lives for the better. May no one ever have to ask, “Who’s raising our children?”