Why do we need so much advice on how to parent our children? Why does the modern world insist on inundating us with information for something that surely should come naturally? After all, our parents and grandparents did OK didn’t they? Didn’t they just put their heads down and get the job done without the use of internet forums, advice columns, parenting blogs, seminars and workshops? They used whatever means and help they had at their disposal and they made decisions based on instinct.
There is no doubt there is a definite place for us to trust and rely on our natural instinct to help us make choices about our children. I believe however, that the modern world insists on us placing greater emphasis on educating ourselves, surrounding ourselves with support networks and seeking out help when the challenges are beyond our level of expertise.
Parenting is different today. Our society has been through enormous changes of late, and thus such changes must be reflected in the way we go about our parenting. But in saying that, we do seem to have lost our way recently with some basic parenting principles that need never go out of style. As pointed out this week by Simon Overland, the Chief Commisioner of Victoria Police, some parents have “lost the skills of parenting”. Some it seems have moved too far away from the upholding of boundaries and discipline, have given their children too many choices and freedoms, and as a result, we are seeing too many older children and teenagers lacking respect and constantly flirting with authority. On the other hand, there are many children who have been so protected from a world that has become so ‘fearful’ that they no longer have a chance to develop the resilience and coping skills required to face life’s challenges. The alarming rise in the number of adolescents suffering anxiety and depression can be somewhat attributed to this desire to protect to the point of removing all obstacles from a child’s path. Unfortunately for these children and their parents, the real world is not always willing to play along with that game.
So back to my original question…..Why do we need help to parent our children? Is it merely to get ‘back on track’ or can we attribute the many changes in society for our need to seek out the skills and support needed to successfully undertake the hardest job in the world. Here are a few of the reasons why I believe we must continue to learn, seek advice, request help and make the appropriate connections in order for us to continue to thrive as a parent in the modern world.
Technology This is probably one of the greatest and fastest changes to have taken place in recent times. The internet, mobile phones and the use of computers has taken over our daily lives with an all encompassing speed and purpose. Most of these changes have led to some wonderful and positive advancement’s in the way we lead our lives. We can now “skype” friends and family overseas and watch them whilst we talk. Those isolated by geography and time can now form relationships, make valuable connections and become part of online communities enabling them to find a place of belonging. We can keep track of our teenagers and their whereabouts with the use of mobile phones. We can shop and work from home, and it seems there will be no end to the possibilities as advancements continue to evolve. But with these changes have come some adverse consequences with a significant negative impact to both parents and their children. We are seeing computer game addictions, teachers competing with online social networking for their students attention, and the alarming and disastrous rise of cyberbullying. Where bullying was once isolated to a dozen or so kids, now a child can be vilified by hundreds and within a matter of seconds. Damaging insults and torments can go viral, all whilst the victim sits in the no longer ‘safe haven’ of the family loungeroom. We need to constantly keep ourselves up to date with these advancements. We need to know what our children are dealing with online and we need the knowledge and skills to help them navigate the ‘cyberworld’.
Structured Lives With the many developments in technology, the increasing numbers of women remaining in the workforce, and the greater demands on our time, our lives have become increasingly structured. Whilst these are not solely negative developments, they are contributing to the notion of families being ‘time poor’. This is often the greatest complaint of parents today, this lack of ‘down time’ with their families. Children are ferried from one activity to the next, meals are eaten on the run and people are living by the beeps, alarms and messages of their iphones. There is nothing wrong with leading busy lives but we need to have the skills to plan, organise, delegate and compromise….and for these things, we so often need help.
Challenging Children I recently read an article on how all parents need to do is to love their children, then everything will turn out OK. Whilst I love the sentiment, and for some people this may well be true, unfortunately for many, love is not always enough. In my work as a counsellor I am often presented with children who are absolutely and unconditionally loved by their parents, but unfortunately they lack the skills, support and access to resources in order to provide everything for their child’s needs. The way we parent or discipline a child with ADHD or Autism for example, can be very different to the way we approach a child without these challenges. As parents we are not always naturally equipped with the knowledge of meeting all the needs of all our individual children.
The Not so Natural Parent For some people parenting just doesn’t come naturally. Not everyone feels that maternal or paternal instinct kick in the moment their little one makes their way into the world. They are constantly questioning themselves and their practises and thus need help to connect, reassure and commit themselves to their role as parent. We are also far more aware and accepting of the mental health issues that face both our parents and our youth, and thus we are far more willing to seek help, and the help is far more readily available.
Media Our media saturated world is now penetrating us with news, both good and bad, usually ‘bad’. It comes at us 24/7 and for some, this means constant exposure to the perils and pitfalls that await our youth at every turn. It also leads us to a constant comparison of how everyone else is living their lives. Our little family units are now being compared to the flourishing and floundering of families all over the world. Sometimes we need help to be reminded to stay focused on our own needs, our own real dangers and thus help with prioritising what is best for our own individual self and families.
In summary, there is no doubt that some elements of parenting should always stay the same. We must develop respect and resilience through boundaries and discipline set out in a loving and nurturing environment. There need not be any tampering with these ideals. But there is also no doubt that our world has changed. It is for these reasons that we need help to deal with cyberbullying, we need help to organise our lives, to fit in time for ourselves and our families. We need help with and respite from the different requirements of special needs and challenging children. We need to be reminded that what we are doing is in our families best interests. And more than ever, we need to know that we are not alone as we continue to take on the hardest, but most rewarding job of all time.