Recently Cathy Gulli, a seasoned journalist at Maclean’s magazine, hit one out of the ballpark. Her essay, "The collapse of parenting: Why it’s time for parents to grow up," has caught the nation’s attention. In fact, it is one of the most read articles in the history of the magazine.
First, let’s celebrate that we have a shared concerns for our youngsters. That’s progress from previous generations who never talked about the care of children. The historical perspective was that personality and behaviour were all genetically determined so environment didn’t matter.
From reading the comment section on Gulli's post, there appears to be two basic opinion camps: "old school" and "modern." (Even those labels are sure to spark up complaints from readers, but understand they are just my shorthand terms.) Let me briefly describe each.
Old school (or firm)
These folks believe parents should be tougher and get today’s arrogant kids back in line by taking up the parenting reins like the “good old days.”
Modern (or friendly)
These people argue that parents should first and foremost ensure that children’s needs are met. They respect children and the child’s needs subvert all others.
Who do I think is right? Both -- or neither, depending on how you look at it.
Research shows that children who are raised with firm limits and boundaries that are enforced in a loving, friendly way thrive best.
Authoritative parenting (both firm and responsive) promotes healthy development and decreases social risks. It is associated with increased academic success, decreased smoking, decreased drinking and less chance of being engaged in violence.
That means we need to be both FIRM and FRIENDLY simultaneously. This presents a challenge to parents who see these as opposite attributes instead of qualities that could co-exist.
Traditionally, parents tyrannized the child who was made to obey and mind their parents’ will. Parents held the reins and the child submitted. Those kids were made to behave well and were forced to show respect to their elders.
The trouble with this method is that it stifles children’s development and makes them fearful of their parents.
So, after about 100 years of research on child development under our belts now, “modern” parents want to finally abolish firm-style parenting and build healthy, respectful relationships with their children. Kudos! I like this objective.
However, and this is where we have to open our eyes, most parents have overshot on their ambition for respecting the child. Ironically, it has resulted in a similar pattern of relationships in the home, just with a role reversal.
You see, (and Gulli discusses this in her article), in the absence of clear leadership, children will step up and take charge. This results in the children tyrannizing parents.
“I don’t want to eat this, make me chicken fingers instead!” and we hustle back to the kitchen to act as short-order cook.
“I can’t sleep, sing me another song” and we oblige, bleary eyed and exhausted.
Tantrum for a cookie and we cave in to their demands.
It's easy to see how the “old-school” thinkers recognize how disrespectful these scenarios are to parents. The “modern” parents often have their blinders on, focusing only on their child and not thinking of themselves or the improper treatment in these interactions.
While I agree that “modern” parents are being treated disrespectfully by their children and don’t even notice it and I agree this is leading to a generation of entitled misbehaving youth, the answer is NOT to return to past generations.
Two wrongs don’t make a right.
All relationships based on the tyrant model are unhealthy and disrespectful. I don’t care if it’s the parent or the child who acts as tyrant -- they are both equally distasteful arrangements.
Instead, I suggest mutually respectful relationships with an appropriate sharing of power -- firm and friendly parenting. This is a new concept that is hard for parents to get their heads around. The end game is co-operation instead of control and manipulation.
Let me try to describe a few of the main tenents.
With “firm and friendly” parenting, the roles and responsibilities of parent and child are clearly defined. Parents can think of themselves as the CEO of the family with more power, more decision making abilities, etc.
Family members are granted freedoms but with freedoms also comes responsibility and accountability. Like any democracy, everyone has a say about things that impact them and to their level or ability, but that doesn’t necessitate they always get their way.
To Gulli’s point, parents do need to step up (or “grow up” as she writes) and take a leadership role in the family, but not as dictator (as the firm camp suggests). Parents should be leaders who take conscious steps to inspire and stimulate co-operation among family members.
I know -- it’s a whole lot harder than it sounds.
When parents act in ways that are firm and friendly, the child learns the social rules and how to function in a group without being given special consideration or evading their responsibilities to others.
If it’s time for bed, we can be empathetic that a child is disappointed the day has come to an end. Yes, they may cry that it's time to put the toys away and get into jammies. We can give them calm comfort to cope while still enforcing the need for a consistent, predictable, age-appropriate bedtime.
After all, little bodies need sleep to grow. So we are being respectful of their physical needs and supporting their emotional needs. Plus parents need alone time in the evening and have the right to claim their private time, too. Consideration is given to all -- not just some.
I know what you are thinking -- but what if they refuse? What if they come out of their room a hundred times? These are the burning discipline questions every parent wants to know and I promise you, if you follow this column you will learn how to respectfully put a child to bed without punishments or rewards and without emotional consequences for either you or your children.
You don’t have to revert back to ruling with an iron fist to raise a child. But you do have to learn new methods of parenting that have not been a part of our cultural history.
So thank you, Gulli, for shining a light on today’s parenting. We do need to eradicate misconceptions and teach new methods to parents. But has parenting collapsed? Well, it sure has erred on the side of being too kind and friendly and this is a good start to getting it back on track.
ALSO ON HUFFPOST:
"My mom loves her garden, anytime I did anything to piss her off, I had to add to her garden. Doesn't sound that bad right? Well, when I told her I was failing English back in high school, my punishment was to build her a pond. It took me a solid week of work to dig it out, line it, shape it, fill it and then plant all the crap around it. She told me after that, that she really hated the 30-year-old cherry tree in the yard and if my grades didn't improve I'd be removing it." ~ Douglerful
"My mom made me write apology letters from when I was little up into high school. Not only did I hate writing them, but she kept all of them so now they're great for a laugh." ~ wasatchyourback
"My seven-year-old daughter who loves fashion [messed] up real bad one day. We had tried every standard punishment and nothing ever seemed to phase her. Then my husband had the idea to 'ground her from fashion.' We made her wear solid coloured T-shirts with plain jeans ans sneakers to school -- no accessories -- for two weeks. That one got her attention. ~ jzzanthapuss
"In the late '80s/early '90s, my two older sisters were obsessed with how high they could tease their bangs and used a ton of hairspray. One of the punishments that my parents used when they would misbehave was taking away hairspray. You would think it was a fate worse than death, having flat hair."
"'I'm very disappointed in your behaviour.' My dad was a therapist. He knew how to discipline without ever raising his voice." ~ Monkeylint
"When I was in high school, my mother would shoot me with cold water from a squirt bottle if I didn't get up right away. It was super effective." ~ sixth_in_line
"If any of us kids started acting up in a store, my mom would immediately drop what she was intending to buy and head home. This way we learned that going to the store was a privilege, and we couldn't throw temper tantrums or scream in public. She said usually after the second time we learned our lesson and never had another problem again." ~ kaeide
"My sister and I threw a tantrum in a store one day so my mother got on the floor and threw a tantrum, too. We both just stood there and stared at her. We never did it again."
"I have an older brother who loved to annoy me. One day I was a bad boy so my parents took away my Game Boy and put my older brother in charge of it for two weeks. The torment was real." ~ futureblackpopstar
"The first and only time I stole something I was 13 and got caught at a bookstore in NYC for stealing a couple DVDs. (Mind you, I bought a bunch first and then shoplifted a few and put them in my bag.) Long story short, my dad walked me around the city for hours forcing me to tell strangers on the way that I was a thief and to tell them what I had done. Almost everyone he had me tell on the subways and buses/streets gave me mixed reactions and disapproval. I'll never steal again." ~ entheoapotheosis
"My mom used to make my brother and I sit on the couch and hold hands when we wouldn't stop fighting. At about the 15-minute mark, you start to feel so ridiculous that you can't stop giggling and you'd make up."
My mother would make me write an essay whenever I screwed up. The essay had to include identifying the incorrect behaviour, why it was incorrect and steps I would take to keep from committing the blunder in the future. When the essay was finished I had to read it aloud in front of the whole family. I hated it, but it worked." ~ Einhander1251
"They took my door off the hinges. No more smoking out of my window after that."
"When I was younger, I pissed off my mom pretty good. I don't even remember exactly what I did, but when I got home from school my bedroom was empty. She took everything out, my TV, VCR, clothes, even my pillow and sheets. I had to do chores and earn back everything bit by bit, one chore for each item. I started with my pillow, blankets, sheets and clothes so I could sleep and go to school the next day. It took me nearly two weeks to get everything back." ~ imnotacrazyperson
"If we left our things in the wrong place it would go missing until we searched for it, often times it would take us days, even weeks to find it again. Particularly upsetting when I left my Game Boy in the bathroom, I didn't find it for months. It only had to happen once for me never to leave it out of place again." ~ RamsesIC
"I stole my parenting technique from my dad. My son is off to college, but I never once 'punished' him. If he did something wrong we would talk about it. And talk about it. And talk about it. Until it got through. After a while, I could just give him the eye and say 'do we need to talk about this?' and 'Noooooo not a talk! I'll be good' would be the immediate answer. It's not the easiest method, not at first anyway. But the most effective." ~ BuckminsterJones
"Not my father, but my wife's father had a brilliant plan that works wonders on my kids, too. He would give them 'lessons' when they misbehaved. If a kid slammed a door, that was time for 'Door Closing Lessons' where he would slowly explain how to 'grasp the handle, slowly turn the knob, pull the door towards yourself, gently step through through the door and once on the other side, confirm that nobody else was coming before slowly pulling the door closed until you heard the lock click.' And if he was interrupted, he would start all over again. It was slow torture to the kids, but no anger was involved and they never slammed a door again. Best part is this process could be used for any offense. ~ chicanes