Every once in a while I stumble on something that makes me say “well, duh” then I think about it and it sort of frightens me that I can understand how much that needed to be said. The most recent case of this was at the tail of this arcticle: Are we creating a generation of teenage-timebombs. It is full of frightening quotes like. “My friends, battling with the issue of discipline, find it almost impossible to impose on their youngsters at any age; the naughty step is all very well, but what the hell do you do when the reach the age where they realize they can just stand up and walk away whenever they like?”.
The article concludes with five points for parents to take to heart: Love, Discipline, Play, Communication, and more vaguely a warning about not starting formal education too soon (until six or seven.) I generally agree with all that and even thing that the priorities are generally correct, but there is also something that seems to be missing. It seems ghastly in a way that parents seem to need the permission to actually discipline their children. As illustrated in the article “Perhaps because we were ourselves brought up with strict – sometimes overly-strict – codes of conduct, as adults we are in grave danger of veering much too far in the opposite direction. The biggest mistake we can make as parents is to want to be our children’s friends. Yes, they may like us more, their classmates may think we’re cool, (Really? Gosh, isn’t that lovely!) but the truth is they also see us as weak. And weakness in those who ought to be powerful will always invite contempt.”
Personally I wasn’t brought up in a “too strict” household. My mother’s attempts at discipline were somewhat wobbly, but I really don’t remember the causal disrespect of parental authority that seems so common today. But that could be the classical problem of really thinking today’s youth is going to hell in a hand-basket — a motto as old at civilization it seems. So what is it about the five little tips that seems lacking.
Two things: First is environment and the second is expectation. I do not think you can raise children who have a good sense of “respect for authority” in an environment that has no respect for any authority. When every television show for young teens and older children is stuffed with examples of disrespectful teens who out wit, out smart and out moral the adults in their lives something is seriously wrong. When a older child’s entire peer group runs the home from the get go it is going to be much more difficult to lay down any rules and have them met. Sadly environment once the child is in school is almost impossible to have very much influence over.
The power of expectations is something I see a lot of parents missing. I have never had even the slightest problem getting the children to sit in their car seats or stay buckled in the car because the car doesn’t move if they aren’t. From their first ride in the car they are buckled in, nothing else is an option. One of those moments that made me stop and think was when an acquaintance asked how I managed to get my five year old to mass every Sunday. She was having a lot of trouble convincing her little boy to go. I don’t think I had a very good answer for her, “Well, we just go to mass.” The expectation is just there for my children that they will do what they are told because I am the parent and they are the child. I guess it really goes back to that consistency thing.