Your Child is Not Perfect: Realizing the Parent's Role in Facilitating Child Development
There it is. The statement that many parents may be fearful to hear or see. But no matter where you live, how you've raised your child, or how smart, personable, or outgoing your child may be, no child is perfect. After all, it has been said that imperfection is what makes us human. Biologically, this is of course untrue, but I will say that I have never met a person I would consider to be "perfect" in my life. Children being no exception, I would challenge you to find a perfect person.
As a society, we have serious issues with our up-and-coming generation of kids. Within the past decade, bullying has become a pervasive issue both inside and outside of school, which has led to traumatic and distressing consequences throughout the country. In many ways, the groundwork for a child who becomes a bully is laid at home, facilitated, though sometimes unwittingly, by parents. Many parents today seem to be more concerned with being their child's friend, providing everything for their children except what they seem to need most - structure, discipline, and limitations. Those parents that do attempt to provide structure and discipline may do so inappropriately.
So, I know you're asking, what exactly qualifies me to make these statements and harsh generalizations? While I don't have children myself, after teaching high school for a few years, I have seen the full gamut of parenting styles and have learned what seems to work best.
Parenting styles say a lot about your relationship with your child
There are those parents that teachers refer to as "helicopter parents," because they constantly hover over their children, routinely checking in with teachers and administrators about assignments, grades, etc. These parents often come across as being distrustful of their children, needing constant validation for their child's successes, but are typically good disciplinarians in that they provide a level of structure for their child.
At the other end of the spectrum are parents who are generally aloof and uninvolved in their child's life. Unfortunately, these are parents of children who usually need them the most - families with low socioeconomic status, children with disabilities, and those children who are considered to be "trouble makers" and bullies. While it can't be argued that these parents view their children as perfect, the lack of structure provided at home undoubtedly leads to problems elsewhere.
Similar problems arising from a lack of structure are also present in families where the parents believe their child is perfect - he or she can do no wrong and is always trustworthy. The support provided by these parents is unwavering - monetarily, socially, and behaviorally. Some parents in this category will also go to extremes to support their children, helping them with school work through promoting cheating on homework assignments and projects.
What's more, while usually friendly at the outset, some of these parents seem to believe that everyone (including school administrators and teacher) may be working against them, and are quick to criticize anyone who appears to be attacking their child. This is dangerous for the child, teacher, and school system. In fact, during my first year of teaching, I had a student who was struggling in class, who falsely accused me of "picking" on her in class. When the student's father came to the school to meet with the principal and I, he could not be convinced otherwise. Even when presented with evidence contradicting his daughter's claims, the father could only remark, "No, my daughter would not lie about this." Clearly, this parent could not fathom a situation where his child may have made a mistake, because after all, she was perfect.
Students crave more structure at home
Despite the difficult nature of this situation, I couldn't help but feel pity for my student, who by no fault of her own was being "handicapped" by her parents. Handicapped, that is, because she cannot make and learn from her mistakes. Mistakes are a part of life, of growing up, learning, and developing into an individual that contributes to society. I know that without mistakes, I would not be the person I am today. My parents imposed limitations and provided structure to my brother and I as we were growing up, which meant that most mistakes came with consequences. This, in turn, allowed for our development of a conscience and promoted our development into independent and self-reliant individuals.
I spent much of last year with a couple of difficult classes - difficult in that they were full of students that were well-known throughout the school. In short, these students were well-known for anything but their positive contributions to the school; rather, their behavioral issues, poor attitudes, and difficult nature. Many of these students also had minor mental and/or physical disabilities, which can often seem to exacerbate disciplinary problems at school.
Despite these problems, such classes allow teachers to grow tremendously in their understanding of their students' needs and learning abilities. In fact, the greatest battle I fought was in trying to motivate this group of students to complete class assignments. I tried many different approaches, including asking the students to complete a survey about themselves. This survey had several statements, to which the students were asked to mark TRUE or FALSE. The statements ranged from simple, such as, "I dislike school" and "I care about my grades," to the more complex, "I have too much freedom in my life; I need more rules" and "I am happy."
Even though I felt like I knew these students fairly well, some of the responses I received on the survey were altogether surprising. In fact, more than 80% of the students marked TRUE for the statement, "I have too much freedom in my life; I need more rules." Many students in these classes had also remarked that they have no plans to move out of their parents' home, because they "like having everything provided" for them. In fact, most of these same students had no idea how to do simple chores like laundry, wash dishes, cook or, perhaps more importantly, pay bills.
So, what's a parent to do?
These revelations were troubling for me, considering that these students make up our future generation. And these kids are already in high school! It is scary to know that some of them will be old enough to vote in the next presidential election. I remember hearing stories on the news this past spring that stated something like upwards of 70% of college graduates this year plan to move back home. While this may be due, in part, to our slow economy and lack of job openings, at least part of those same college graduates would prefer to have the support - monetarily and otherwise - of their parents, rather than moving out on their own for good.
Parents need to help their children, not by seeking to be their friend, but through providing support that allows them to develop into self-reliant individuals. Of course, this is easier said than done, and each child is unique; what works for one child may not work for another. However, I have put together 5 tips that should work for most parents and children. Use these at your discretion, according to your child's specific needs.
1. Support your child, appropriately. All children need the support of their parents, especially as they are growing up. But as described above, there is a fine line between just enough support and taking parental support to the extreme. Remember that your role is as a parent, a role model, and an authority figure. Teach your child to respect adults through modeling these interactions at home, not trying to become your child's best friend. Doing this will promote healthier relationships between your children and others in the future.
2. Utilize the resources available to you and your child. Your child's teachers, administrators, and school support staff are great resources for promoting your child's social and behavioral development. Keep in mind that school is not just for learning the material in textbooks, but also provides students with the resources necessary to develop and hone the skills required to become an active member of society. Stay in contact with your child's teachers, as they work incredibly hard to get to know and help each of their students. That being said, teachers are usually your child's greatest advocates at school - get them involved!
3. Allow past experiences to drive your parenting style. We each have unique experiences, and most of us has learned quite a bit from events that have occurred in the past. Use these experiences as a tool to help you refine your goals as a parent. You may realize that, even though some of your past experiences may have been negative, they have shaped you into the person that you are today. Take advantage of these experiences and integrate them into your parenting style.
4. Let your children make mistakes. Remember, mistakes allow us to grow and develop! Don't be so protective of your children that they aren't exposed to diverse experiences, or so naive that you believe your child can do no wrong. Treating your child as if he or she is perfect only spells disaster for the future, when they are faced with the harsh realities of life. Everyone should (and will!) make mistakes, and your children should be no exception. Make sure that mistakes come with consequences (if necessary), or at the very least, a calm discussion about what can be learned from these mistakes. Don't forget, we must understand our mistakes before we can grow.
5. Be involved. Chances are, if you are reading this, you are already an involved parent. To this I say, Bravo! You have already far surpassed many of the parents of the children I have had in my classes to-date. Keep working to support your children - appropriately - and encourage them throughout their young lives. Make it a point to have a meaningful conversation with your children at least once a day, and show them that you are interested in their lives. This will help you in the long run, creating a solid foundation that will withstand the pressures of issues as they arise in the future.