I was on Facebook recently and saw that a parent of a 12-year-old daughter was upset by what some of her friends were posting. The retort from the parent went something like this: “I am very disappointed in some of the language and topics some of you have been discussing on here. I am in control of my daughter’s Facebook and you need to clean up your language or you can no longer be her friend.”
It went on to have a message aimed at guilting people while providing a pedestal for this person to show everyone how great she was.
This is just a symptom of a greater problem I see in a lot of families I work with: We are creating a culture of children and teens who cannot solve their own problems. And I’ll be the first to raise my hand and say I’m guilty of this as well.
What am I saying? Should I let my 4-year-old watch “The Walking Dead” because he needs to understand American culture? Should we let our kids fistfight in some sort of child fight club so they can experience life? Should we as parents tell our kids “you’re on your own” when they face a problem? No. I am a strong proponent for parental involvement and believe that it is key for developing healthy children. So what am I saying? Be involved and be there for your kids, but watch out for that line between protecting them and enabling them.
You won’t always be there. This is a tough pill for me to swallow. I love being there for my son. It feels great when he has a problem and I can jump in front of him like Superman with my cape billowing majestically in the wind and say, “It’s going to be OK.” As good as that feels and as right as that feels, whose needs am I taking care of? My own.
We get a lot of need fulfillment and psychological satisfaction from being parents. Don’t confuse meeting your needs with meeting your child’s needs. If you fend off every monster, defeat every foe, and teach your child to push down every strong feeling, you are doing them a disservice. You are doing the opposite of what you should be doing.
It feels good to protect your kids from the big, bad world. It’s instinctual. Be there, but don’t fight every battle. Watch the battle, moderate the debate, and don’t let things get out of hand. When it’s over, talk about it. Help your children understand what just happened, what they did, what they could have done better, and ideas for the future.
Ask them questions. “What happened there?” “What did you learn from that?” “If it happened again, what would you do differently?” “Do you think what happened was OK?” “What role did you play in the problem?” Allow your children to make decisions and experience the consequences, always being there to guide and offer your hand. This is parenting.
When you engage your children in critical thinking, when they have to use their whole brain to look at an issue — that’s when learning happens. Making connections between the right brain (big emotions) and the left brain (logic) is key for wellness. Ride the emotional waves with them and then talk about it afterward. Let your kids experience feelings, just don’t let them experience them alone. Always be there, waiting and ready to jump in if things get too hairy.
The parent on Facebook referenced above is a good parent. She was doing what she thought was best for her child. She is not a bad person or a bad parent for wanting to help and shield her daughter from the ugly things in the world. Focus on raising children who are real thinkers: ones who can face a problem and engage those complex thought processes, develop their own sense of morality, weigh the options, and make good choices.
What sort of child are you raising? What will happen when they’re at school, when they have jobs, when they’re alone with their friends, when they go to college? What will happen when a monster comes along and Superman just isn’t there?
Make sure your kids know that you are always there for them, that they can always come to you with their problems. Be their hand to hold, their shoulder to cry on, their counselor for hard times. When the problem is too big for your kids (you’ll know when), it’s time to put on the cape. Sometimes it will be time to step up and eradicate the threat with a swift fury. Your kids need your protection sometimes. Just know when that time is.