As much as I go on about how amazing our kids are today (as I always say, I am fortunate enough to get to meet incredible young people doing unbelievable things every day), I have to say I also come in contact with some pretty impressive parents as well. Mums and Dads from across the country who work so hard to ensure their teen is safe, happy and loved. It continues to blow me away just how many people can show-up at a Parent Information Evening, particularly this year, with numbers averaging well over 200 each night. This could be due to the drug-related deaths of those young people at music festivals over the summer period, but nevertheless, we live in a busy world and most families are ‘time-poor’ – to turn-up and listen to a talk after a day at work and/or looking after a family is a huge commitment. Of course, there are always going to be those scary ones who want to be the ‘cool parent’ and try to be their child’s best friend and, unfortunately, those are likely to be the ones that make your life far more difficult. These are the parents who provide alcohol to other people’s children, put on parties and tolerate alcohol (but tell those who call to do a check that none will be allowed) and agree to host a ‘safe space’ for teens to do whatever they’re not allowed to do anywhere else …
My favourite line from a parent ever (and I have heard it many times over the years) is usually said after I have finished delivering a presentation outlining what research has found to be ‘best practice’ in terms of the provision of alcohol to a teen … They usually start with how much they enjoyed the talk and how interesting they found a particular part but inevitably end with “But if I did all that my child wouldn’t like me very much!” It’s a response that continues to surprise and baffle me. Your teen is certainly meant to love you, but realistically they’re not necessarily going to like you very much. Your job is to apply rules and boundaries to keep them as safe as possible, most of which they’re highly likely to resent and push against and that is not going to result in you winning any popularity contests as far as your teen is concerned.
I don’t have children but have thoroughly enjoyed watching my brother and his amazing wife parent my two wonderful nephews and niece. As much as you can see all the hard work it takes to bring up three children in this complicated world (and boy, you can see it gets tough sometimes), you can also see the great pleasure both of them get from such simple experiences they share with them. My brother is currently lovingly navigating his 14-year-old through the world of 80s’ music – each new band and song that is introduced bonding them a little closer. To watch my incredible sister-in-law simply reading a book to my niece is an absolute joy … But both of them realize and accept that you can’t just do the ‘fun part’ of parenting, you have to do it all! As a result, it’s highly probable that you’re not going to be liked …
No-one wants conflict and, in the short-term, letting your teen rule the roost and allowing them to get what they want may seem easier. But inevitably that approach is highly likely to backfire, with research finding that ‘permissive parenting’, i.e., where there is lots of love but few rules, is far less protective than ‘authoritative parenting’ where rules, boundaries and unconditional love are in play. In my experience there are two aspects of parenting that are particularly difficult – saying ‘no’ and allowing your child to fail.
The most important words you will ever say to your child are ‘I love you’, followed closely by ‘no’! ‘No’ is such a powerful word and, when used correctly, teaches a child so much in terms of boundaries and acceptable behaviour. Unfortunately, it can often be used as a punishment and that is why although a child should hear the word regularly, they should also clearly understand why it has been said (i.e., it should almost always be used to keep them safer in some way or another, if it isn’t, its use should be reassessed). Saying ‘no’ won’t make you popular but, put bluntly, parenting isn’t a popularity contest – when you need to say it, say it!
Without a doubt, one of the hardest parts of parenting has to be allowing your child to fail. Sometimes parents think this relates purely to academic results but it is much broader than that, covering sporting achievements, everyday activities and, most importantly, failure around ‘fitting in’. Too often we now see Mums and Dads completing homework tasks to ensure a good mark, pressuring sports coaches to give their child the best position on the field or allowing their teen to do something they don’t feel entirely comfortable with (e.g., drinking alcohol at a party) for fear that if they don’t they won’t fit in. We all need to experience failure – if we don’t, how are we ever going to feel the thrill of success?
In recent times, we’ve seen great pressure put on schools to make sure everyone gets a ribbon at the school athletics carnival (I even went to a school where no one came first at their event, instead everyone came second!) and sporting teams give everyone a prize at the end of the year. One parent recently told me that they now have to include a prize at every stage of the ‘pass the parcel’ game, because children got upset when they took a sheet of paper and received nothing. Bizarre! Not surprisingly, we’re now starting to see the dangers of a culture where everyone wins. As research psychologist, Dr Peggy Drexler wrote – “We may think that rewarding every child will make them feel good — and it may, for a moment. But it may also make them feel that they are entitled to praise and recognition for merely existing. And that does no one any favours.”
One of my greatest concerns is that we now have some parents who invite every one of their child’s classmates to a party, fearful that if they don’t, their little darling won’t be invited somewhere. This is dangerous and sets young people with a very distorted view of the world. I believe one of the most important lessons you can ever teach your child is the following:
“You can’t be good at everything, only one person can ‘win’ and you can’t be friends with everyone and that’s ok!”
To watch a child ‘suffer’ must be agonising for any parent (having your child telling you that they haven’t been invited to a party and wanting to know why must be heartbreaking) and your first instinct is always going to be to try to prevent it from happening. Ensuring they are resilient and teaching them from an early age that it’s ok to ‘fail’ is so important. All they can do is their best and you love them, no matter what. It was tough for us as kids, I know it was for me, and in this era of social media it has to be so much more difficult, but in my experience most of our kids are not only surviving, they’re thriving! In most of those cases, it’s usually because a parent has been a parent and has put the effort in and has not just done the ‘fun part’. It’s not going to be easy but it’ll be worth it in the end …
Drexler, P. (2012). A Warning Against a Culture Where Every Child Wins. Psychology Today. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/our-gender-ourselves/201207/warning-against-culture-where-every-child-wins) accessed 24 February, 2019.