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Parenting Your Teens; 10 is the new 30

While so many of our young adults are coming back home from college, jobless, penniless and in debt (”. and totally dependent on us, many of us continue to treat our children like “little adults”.  Thus  “30 is the New 10” and “10 is the New 30.

What does this all mean?

Back in “the day “(40’s- 60’s) “authoritarian parenting” was common.  This essentially featured such strategies and admonitions as “you will do what I say when I say it”,  “In my house we you will do it our way.”, “Do as I say, not as I do” and “Children should be seen and not heard.”  Violations often were met with strict punishments, ridicule, humiliation, verbal and physical abuse.  Thank goodness we are not “back in that day” anymore!

That approach and era yielded many determined, driven children who succeeded greatly and others whose self-esteem was damaged, who were or were not helped by decades of therapy and other remedies.  In fact that era in a way helped birth the idea of “going to a therapist” into a mainstream approach. Many of us remember saying , “I probably deserved it”, “It was for my own good.” Or “Look at me now, I didn’t turn out so bad”, or “That was the style in those days.”  These rationales have kept many generations from facing and dealing with the damages of authoritarian parenting and corporal punishment.

The 60’s were tumultuous with so many of our “foundational culture values” knocked down.  The 70’s the 80’s swung the other way to a more liberal, permissive and even licentious parenting style couched by its own dysfunctional sayings, such as, “ Do your own thing”, “If it feels good, do it.”, “Love is all you need.”.  Parental supervision gave way to a narcissistic response that featured “looking the other way”, “safe sex and drinking parties for teens”, “embibing on your own and even with your teen.”  The “me” generation slipped into “If you can’t beat them, join them.”  Earlier warnings about the “dangers” of marijuana, and the perils of alcohol as well as hallucinogenic began to be ignored as young people found their way to new “spirituality” and “karma” through what seemed like the liberating power of drugs in “expanding consciousness” and taking us into “mind altering” revelation and spiritual awakening.

This “liberal” and “permissive” parenting in the 70’s and 80’s became a new euphemism for parental freedom, narcissism, immaturity, abdication and neglect of parental duties. The ensuing children actually, in many cases became incorrigible, authoritarian and even abusive in their own childish way.  Parents began to cower while their children raged and ran wild.  Societal disapproval of corporal punishment has fortunately spared us one kind of condoned abuse while sometimes replacing it with another kind of “abuse”, the reticence to step into the practice of mindful, authoritative parenting, and the tendency to want to be our child’s ‘best friend”.

Now, in the new millennium and even back to the 1990’s the pendulum swings from extreme to extreme in daily parenting approaches.   Some new parents have reacted to the permissive parenting they experienced by becoming “in-your-face”, “hands on” parents with an intolerance for their child being anything less than the first and best..  These approaches have led to phrases as “zero-tolerance”, a colloquial euphemism for “You must be perfect!”  They are often followed by “I give up, do what you want!”

The result of this new kind of expectation continues to be over-pressured, over-precious, entitled, driven teens, who are encouraged to focus on achievement and performance, as opposed to the traditional educational values of learning and success.  Furthermore, young people are prone to meeting the “zero-tolerance” expectations by going underground and becoming secretive about their activities and transgressions.

New, jump forward to our current decade.  Parenting styles feature a mix of different styles for different situations, ranging from authoritarian to permissive.

The variety and inconsistency often leaves children confused and unsure.  Often, the inception of the reaction is not well-thought and mindful parenting strategy, but rather anger, control, exhaustion, confusion, exasperation and resignation.  Authoritarian parenting and permissive parenting have both proven to be often ineffective.

Half of the time we are treating our children as if they are children, while treating them like “little adults” at other times.   Through our premature and developmentally inappropriate engagement with children (especially in their younger years 3-12), we plant the seeds for a difficult and unmanageable adolescence for our children.  By early on resorting to giving children too many choices, or choices that they are not ready to make, we empower and disempower them at the same time. Such decisions as where to go to middle and high school, what you want to do for the summer, and even, the power to veto or dictate the dinner menu can be too big for children who are not ready to make them.  Arguing with a child is confusing and often futile.   Too much negotiating with children can prematurely empower them.  Tactics such as telling them “You hurt my feelings” puts them up as peer to us, or us as a peer to them.  Neither seems advisable.One minute we are treating them like “little adults”, worrying if they are mad at us or will still love us if we say no.  The next moment, we are chastising them for acting like they “are the parents” and reminding them that we are the adults

Children learn that they can come out victorious through whining, negotiating, pleading, and if all else fails, through escalation to pleading, threatening, throwing tantrums, raging and evening threatening or committing violence on themselves or others.

Although growing up is a process of “detaching” from the parent, our children are attached and may continue that attachment for many years.  They need to see their attachment to us as real and necessary.  We know that they are not capable of supervising, managing, housing and feeding themselves.  It is clear that they could become dangerously ill without our intervention in and funding of their medical treatment and recoveries.

We need to rebuild the kind of attachment that frees our children from making difficult and unreasonable decisions, and allows them to be children.  Eventually that healthy attachment will support their emergence into adulthood.  Perhaps it would be healthy and refreshing to stop focusing on what our children want, desire and demand, and give and intuit and know they need for healthy development.

That means we have to step up, take charge and be the adults we want our children to one day be, and for now, let them be kids.

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