Can you imagine being a teenager in today’s complex world? My teen years were particularly tough but I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like to go through adolescence in this era of social media. Every image of them is scrutinised and judged by the world at large, as is all that they do and say. We may have done stupid things when we were young but, for most of us, there is no photographic evidence of any of it. Today, there is no room for a mistake or an error in judgment, as every activity is likely to be captured by some sort of electronic device and be available forever for people to examine, criticise and condemn. That’s got to be tough …
It’s the same for parents. Talk to your own parents about what they did when you were young and most will certainly let you know that they didn’t have any book or parent seminar to raise you and your siblings. They just got on with it … Today, however, there is far greater access to information on how to parent ‘effectively’ and you are expected to keep on top of it. Theories constantly change and you may read one book this year that tells you do one thing and then another the next that points you in a completely different direction! There’s no two ways around it – parents have it tough and they’re damned if they do and they’re damned if they don’t … We constantly tell parents that they need to be involved in their child’s life, to be interested in what they do, know their friends, where they’re going and what they’re doing, but at the same time we warn about the risk of ‘overparenting’. Put simply, like their teens, there is great pressure on parents to be ‘perfect’.
We live in a world where, for some reason, we love to highlight the negative. It’s extremely rare to see a media story about young people doing great things. Ask any journalist, editor or producer and they will tell you that positive stories just don’t attract attention – people just don’t seem to be interested in ‘good news’. If you have an article on the front page of a paper or run a story on the news about young people and increasing drug use, however, that’ll pull the readers and/or viewers in. It’s exactly the same with my blog – the pieces I write promoting ‘good news’ get far fewer ‘hits’ – so sad but absolutely true.
Yesterday I was in Brisbane and the front page of the Courier Mail was ‘Qlds’ Youth Crime Crisis: Kids in the Clink’. Now I have no idea if Queensland is experiencing a ‘youth crime crisis’ or not but this story, like so many others, feeds into the myth that today’s young people are so much worse than every other generation of teenagers. Yes, there are problems but let’s not lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of our kids are wonderful and try to do the right thing.
When I got home, I turned on the TV and saw the promo for this week’s 60 Minutes program which included the upcoming story on ‘School Bully Parents’. Now anyone who has ever read anything I have written knows that I often highlight parental behaviour that staggers me but, as I always say, no-one can tell someone how to bring up their child. They are your own precious jewel and you have to make decisions what is best for you and your child. Where I draw the line is when someone makes decisions for their child that adversely affects other people and, most particularly, other parents’ children. Without a doubt, there are some parents who are doing terrible things but, once again, there are so many others who are just trying to do their best to navigate through the incredibly complex world of parenting.
As I always say, parents can only do the best they can do at the time. I’ve used the following quote from a BBC article before but it is important to repeat – “You don’t have to be the perfect parent, whatever that is, just a good enough one. We are all human and, however many children we may have, we are all still learning what is the best way to parent each child, so be kind to yourself!” No-one is perfect and the increasing expectation to be the ‘perfect parent’ is unrealistic and dangerous – beating yourself up when you make mistakes helps no-one, least of all your child.
I really do see myself as one of the luckiest people in the world – I get to do what I love every day. Working with young people is so incredibly rewarding and I am constantly amazed by how they not only ‘survive’ in this increasingly complex world, they ‘thrive’. Of course, there are those teens that do stupid things and get themselves and others into trouble but what annoys me is that we never talk about the flipside of the coin – those who do great things, not for the glory or attention, but simply because they can. It’s the same for parents. I come across absolute horrors but, at the same time, each and every week I am contacted by, or meet wonderful Mums and Dads from across the country who are simply trying to do the best they can for their kids …
In a world where every image is now put through a ‘filter’ and everything we do is judged and criticised by people we don’t even know, there is an increased expectation to be ‘perfect’. That’s tough for everyone. Sometimes we just have to give ourselves a break and say we’re not doing too badly. Ask any teacher in any school and they will tell you that, for the most part, we have wonderful kids and so many amazing parents – let’s make sure we remember that …
Machin, A. (2017). Take the test: Am I a helicopter parent? (http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zs976yc#z87s3k7) accessed 18 March, 2017.
Published: April 2019