I've read many articles lately that focus on "the problem with parents/parenting." Some of them talk about the seemingly over involvement of DCFS (a.k.a. Child Protective Services) in peoples lives; others point the finger at the government or the public education system; still others blame longer work weeks and the "need" of many companies to have parents consistently on call. Very few articles addressed what I believe to be the epicenter of the problem:
"There is no 'parenting epidemic' in America. There is a personal responsibility epidemic."
-Matt McWilliams (Source)
Here are a few examples:
It's ever-present in our schools...
...in tight situations...
...and most definitely at home. (But let's be honest: who didn't use that one--or at least something like it--as a kid? I know I did.)
Please don't misunderstand me here: I am aware that some public school teachers/college professors are indeed at fault for the failing grades of students who put forth their best efforts. Many children don't want to say "I did it" because they don't want to invoke the wrath of angry parents. However, in a majority of the cases out there, people have no desire to be responsible for their actions, thoughts, and behaviors. I believe very strongly that the lack of personal responsibility in our world today stems, for the most part, from a lack of parents teaching and enforcing it while their children are still at home.
Side note: I am in no way making any type of statement referring to abuse in this post. That is a very different thing altogether and abuse victims are not responsible for what has happened to them.
Mark Redmond, Executive director of Spectrum Youth and Family Services related an experience while at the gym a few weeks ago.
"I was on the treadmill . . . and of the 10 televisions playing in front of me, the only show that looked half-way interesting was one on MTV called "Parental Control." . . . I am not a fan of MTV, [but] . . . I plugged in my headphones anyway and listened in, and apparently what happens on this reality show is that there is a teenager who is dating someone who his/her parents do not like. MTV producers then haul in a handful of prospective alternate mates, the parents pick the two they like best, their child goes on a date (televised, of course) with each, and then the big question at the end is if the child will ditch his/her current partner for one of the new ones."
He goes on to say that this particular episode involved a girl around 16 years of age whose boyfriend was not liked at all by her parents. What was the problem? According to the girl's father: "he constantly breaks my rule about not sleeping over in our house." The mother added that "it's so embarrassing to be here in the kitchen in the morning, in my pajamas and bathrobe, my hair all a mess, and he sees me like that." When talking to the disliked boyfriend, his only reply to his rule-breaking, mom-embarrassing actions was "Hey, what guy doesn't want to sleep with his girlfriend in her bed? It's the greatest!"
What was Mr. Redmond's reaction? "When I saw all this, I practically jumped off of the treadmill and screamed."I hope that our reactions would have been similar. Here we have TV trying to fix the boyfriend (who definitely isn't the poster-boy for awesomeness) when the main problem is a lack of personal responsibility on the parents' part.
As parents, we are responsible for our children. Whether we like it or not, their actions are a direct reflection on us. So, how can we do our best to make sure our families don't turn into a real-life version of this show? A basic tool that all parents have is the
But here's the thing: it's not having rules that can teach and safeguard children; it's how and when parents use them. When it comes to your household rules:
- Do you trust your child too much?
- Some parents think their children are angels all the time ("my children wouldn't do something like that") so they don't even have rules. It's not bad to trust your kids, but don't forget that (like you) they aren't perfect, either. Part of being a responsible parent is knowing that trust doesn't mean they get what they want 100% of the time.
- Do you not trust your child enough?
- Rules are important, but if your children have to check in every 5 minutes when they're out with friends, you're going to mentally and socially suffocate them. Keeping a tight leash on children has almost always caused some level of rebellion in the future. As a parent, consider your role in fostering a relationship of trust with your children.
- Do you and your children remember what the household rules are?
- Regardless of age (including yours), reminders are necessary.
- Do the rules evolve as your child grows and matures?
- Let's be real here: 8-o'clock bedtime for a 16-year-old is a little much. If you haven't modified the rules for your older children, take into consideration that rebellious problems can occur if they aren't treated age-appropriately.
- Do you enforce said rules?
- If your child doesn't think you care about the rules, he/she won't, either.
- If the dad in the MTV scenario didn't want the boyfriend to sleep over, why did he not stay up until his daughter came home? Did his daughter even have a curfew?
- Even if you do enforce following the rules, do you enforce consequences for breaking them?
- You'd be surprised at how many parents just tell their children to follow rules and don't do anything if they're broken. Consistency is a big deal.
- The dad in this scenario said that the boyfriend broke the rule about sleeping over. He never brought up the fact that the daughter was not trying to stop him from doing it.
- Are you more concerned about your lifestyle than your child's safety?
- As children get older and thus, more independent, parents obviously can fulfill more of their own interests. While it's great fun, it can also cause parents to become more relaxed when it comes to enforcing the still-necessary rules.
- Consider the mother in the MTV scenario: With everything that could happen to her daughter because of her association with her boyfriend, this mom was more concerned with her appearance when the young man came downstairs in the morning. I believe that she really does love her daughter, but it is possible that as her daughter gained more independence, rule-following got put on the back burner.
Regardless of religion, culture, gender, etc., incidents to this extreme--and worse--are not uncommon anymore. The sad thing about it all is that such situations would still be rare if accountability on both the parent's and the children's part had been an active part of the family dynamic.
But it has to start with the parents.
That's not to say it's easy or even fun. That's not to say that children won't have rough patches or that they won't just rebel anyway. But if something like that does happen, the parents can have the comfort of knowing that they did their best instead of trying to compete in a round of extreme backpedaling.