Parenting isn’t a popularity contest. Unfortunately, many modern parents act this way — and they don’t want to lose. Yearning for approval, parents are terrified to take a strong stand with their children. They fear their kids won’t like them. So they resort to explaining, clarifying, negotiating, and appeasing.
This development can be devastating to our families and our communities.
Parents must understand that our kids are going to hate us at times. They are going to be mad at us and yell at us and slam doors in our faces. It’s perfectly OK for them — and for us — to have that discomfort. It will go away. They will still love us, we will still love them, and they will be far more prepared for living in the Great Big World than they would if we protected them from the ups and downs of life.
Setting limits isn’t just a good idea for parents: It’s a crucial step toward creating independent thinkers with a healthy mental outlook.
If setting limits were easy, more people would do it. It can be uncomfortable for us and it’s often quite disappointing for children. But we can’t help but disappoint them. What we can do is validate their feelings and help them mourn the loss. This stance will raise a generation of risk takers who won’t be afraid of trying and failing — because they have had the direct experience of surviving disappointment.
How do we begin to reverse this frightening societal trend? Parents need to clarify their own values and communicate these to their children in confident consistent ways. Perhaps most importantly, they cannot be afraid that their kids won’t like them.
Limit setting is crucial when it comes to technology. Some parents can try to ignore technology and hope it goes away. But the Internet and social networking are here to stay. It’s scary to think that your kids probably know more than you do already. So it’s imperative that parents figure out how they want to integrate technology into their own family values.
In order to make the modern technological world safe for children, parents must:
1. Forbid the use of technology for babies.
Yes, parents use iPhones to distract and appease their babies. A recent print advertisement showed a plush toy that held an iPhone so the baby could push its buttons — even though the baby wasn’t even old enough to hold it! The American Pediatrics Academy recommends that children under two don’t watch television at all. Make a decision, and stick to your guns — even if you have to deal with a temper tantrum.
2. Restrict the Use of Cell and Smart Phones
We’ve lost all perspective when we let our middle schoolers (or younger) walk around with smart phones. The reality is that no middle school child needs to search the Internet or send and receive email when they are away from home. Cell phones should never be allowed in school: If a parent or child needs to reach each other during the school day, he or she can go through the school office. This system has been working successfully for decades now. But if we want the convenience of having a child have a phone, limit the options on the other end. For instance, we can block certain phone numbers, limit the number of calls, check monthly bills and make sure the rules are being followed. In other words, by determining a reasonable balance we can have convenience and security yet retain some control.
3. Pay attention.
I know modern life can be distracting. But what’s more important than making sure your child is safe? These days, that means knowing what they are doing on the Internet, who they chat with, and what sites they visit. Both you and your kids need to understand that it’s not like writing in a diary — anything they do is headed for the vast unknown we call cyberspace. Educate them about the fact that everything they write and upload is public. Spend time with them so they can show you what they are into and who their online friends are. Check out these friends, just as you would a “real” friend. Today’s technology is the Wild West — no rules, no etiquette about what is said and how people conduct themselves.
4. Educate Yourself.
How can you help your kids navigate this confusing terrain when you have no clue? Learn about social networking, sign up for your own Facebook account, educate yourself about different settings on different sites. Understand the rules: For instance, the minimum age for a Facebook Page is thirteen. But, you should also know that everyone lies on the Internet — why not? It’s easy. The reality is that lots of 11 year olds have Facebook pages to get in the game. This means that the person “chatting” with your child who says they are a 15-year old girl, might, in fact be a 42-year old man. Information is power.
5. Be A Role Model
Today’s parents are constantly bombarded with conflicting messages about the role of technology in their kid’s lives. Can’t live with it—can’t live without it. There’s a steady stream of news stories about the dangers of the Internet, yet kids are completely hooked into their smartphones and their online fantasy worlds—just as their parents are! Be a role model for your kids. When you are talking to them, put down your cell phone. Carve out family time with no technology. Create rituals that involve “old-fashioned” fun like word games and art projects. Don’t jump up to answer a call during dinner.
Parenting is hard. There is no manual. It’s on the job training with the highest of stakes. It’s relentlessly being in the trenches and acting on instinct and experience. We sometimes do a terrible job. We may not be perfect. But if we pay attention and follow these few simple rules, mostly we’ll do just fine.