I had just finished speaking to parents at a PTSA event held at a public high school. As I conversed with many engaged parents afterward, one looming emotion filled their questions: I hope I haven’t made so many mistakes that I’ve ruined my kids.
The fact is, millions of moms and dads are very engaged in the parenting process. However, we have unwittingly adopted a new report card, whether we know it or not. Perhaps not every parent has, but millions now evaluate their success this way:
- Have I done everything to make my child happy?
- Have I kept them from failing at everything?
- Did I remove hard struggles from their life?
- Have I given my kids everything they want?
- Do they have the latest technology?
- Are my kids seen by peers as “cool”?
- Do they like me?
May I suggest one of the reasons why so many psychologists believe we’re in a parental crisis, not just in America, but in industrialized nations around the world? It’s because we’ve changed our report card, and for that matter, our view of good parenting. Let me offer four reasons why our report card isn’t working and why our new parenting gauge has produced unprepared young adults:
1. We’re consumed with being liked.
It starts young, when our pre-school child wants to eat at a different fast food restaurant than the one we pulled up to. Parents avoid a tantrum by giving in and doing what the kid wants. I think we don’t merely fear the tantrum: we fear the child and the possibility they won’t like us unless we give in to their wishes (some kids just have stronger personalities than their parents). Too much of our identity is tied to being liked by our children, when the truth is, I am a better parent to them when I love and lead them and require respect in return.
2. We’ve lost the neighborhood.
We’ve all heard the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” In many ways, we have lost the village. When I was growing up, bus drivers, neighbors, teachers, coaches and even our postman had the liberty to discipline kids if they did something wrong. I realize we’re in a new day, but we’ve lost the shared sense of responsibility for turning out good kids. The “village” was one of support, not judgment. Today, if a child acts out and someone else corrects him, parents get upset. We all want our children (and ourselves, for that matter) to appear “together." As a result, if a kid throws a fit at a restaurant, we all cast judgmental eyes on them. Instead, we should be supporting mom or dad, as the tantrum is likely due to the fact that he or she is enforcing a rule. We should be saying, “Hey, good job. I know setting limits is hard.”
3. We just lowered the bar.
When kids or teens act out, many of us shrug our shoulders and say, “Kids will be kids. It’s just the way they are these days.” I submit: It doesn’t have to be. I’ve written before that a hundred years ago, kids were capable of so much more than we expect of them today. 4-year-olds were doing age-appropriate chores around the house, 12-year-olds worked the farm, 17-year-olds were leading armies, and 19-year-olds were getting married and having children. I’m not saying we must return to this lifestyle — I just believe that it’s in kids to do so much more than get lost on Facebook and Twitter. When we don’t expect more of kids, think of the message this sends them. We’re guilty of what President Bush called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”
4. We patch things up instead of making things right.
Let’s face it: The civilized world affords us a lot of short-cuts. We place our kids in front of video games, tablets or other electronics to enable them to endure long waits at the grocery store or in a dentist’s waiting room. Parents are busier than ever, and I’m all for simple solutions whenever possible. However, I believe we need to let our kids learn how to delay gratification when the desired outcome doesn’t come quickly. The right solution may not be easy or speedy, but it’s imperative they understand the importance of going next door and apologizing to a neighbor, or returning the stolen chewing gum to the grocery store clerk, or waiting on a parent who’s speaking with a friend. Life lessons like these prepare them for the future.
I am concerned that if we don’t correct these grave mistakes, our kids could become entitled, selfish and rude adults. And it won’t be their fault.