Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Why is Parenting More Difficult Today?

The PARENTING STYLE of yester year was autocratic. The object was to control the child and that made it easier to parent. The autocratic parenting style is used by less families today due to social changes in this country that honor and nurture the human spirit. It has also come about by an explosion in the varying number of books and opinions published by differing methodologies and psychologists. Parents are confused as to how to raise children and many are just throwing their arms up in frustration and guessing their way through a very critical and difficult job. This is exactly what led me to get my psychology degrees, write my books, and develop my organization to help parents; Cooperative Kids.

TECHNOLOGY and SOCIAL MEDIA has changed drastically over the years and today, parents must stay up on the latest technology to know what to allow their child to have and use, and how to keep them safe secure from predators and their peers. Children today with cell phones, Facebook and the Internet are not safe and suffer from a "modern day" vulnerability that did not exist when we were children. Bullying for us ended at 3:15 when we arrived home. Because of technology and social media, bullying can now occur on a wider basis and 24 hours a day.

The ENTERTAINMENT AND ADVERTISING INDUSTRIES no longer have the best interest of the family and the child in mind and are leaving the policing to the parents. The problem is that the parents are over worked, stressed, and tired, and cannot be the catch-all to keep their kids safe from the free-flowing inappropriate material being pumped into the homes through the Internet and the television channels. Children are seeing television shows like Jersey Shore and The Bad Girls and begin believing that this type of inappropriate behavior is OK. So many parents are giving up the fight. In fact, entertainment moguls are targeting our children at incredibly early ages to "sign them on" as consumers. The entertainment industry has removed child safety from their products and services. The movie/television rating system has been down graded, more adult-related subjects and shows are being shown on televisions at earlier hours, game systems are making inappropriate video games for kids to play, music is easier to download to ipods and much of it is inappropriate for children and young teens.

The PRESSURE TO BE A SMART (AND STRONG) PARENT is very challenging, especially when it appears to many parents that "everyone else" is becoming more lenient and letting their children watch inappropriate television and have the latest unguarded technology and gadgets. This added to what some call the "new age of parenting" has parents caving to their children's requests (or demands) because, as they say in the defeatist mode, "they are going to see it somewhere." It is cute when a parent gives an 8 year old a cell phone, but when they begin sexting at age 13, it is too late to take the phone away. Many single parents are afraid of their child's rages at removing cell phones and Facebook accounts, afraid they will hear the dreaded words, "I'm going to live with my dad (or mom) because he lets me have a phone." It then becomes just easier to give in and hope for the best.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Case Against Facebook for Kids and Young Teens

I was involved in an online discussion regarding giving children and young teens access to the social networking application Facebook. My stance is a firm NO and I am outnumbered by parent educators who believe differently. Their position is to allow a child to have Facebook with some safeguards, if the parent believes that the child is emotionally or cognitively ready to use it responsibly, or if the child shows curiosity and a desire to use it. They also feel that social media tools are here to stay for adults and children should be included and trained to use them safely.

I advised my fellow parent educators that putting out general parenting advice to the world (as some in this group are) that children and young teens can be given limited or supervised access to Facebook because “social media is here to stay,” or because “the child is asking for it,” or because “every child is different and some may be emotionally or cognitively ready for it” is a mistake. It is a mistake primarily because of the parents who are on the low end of the continuum (or those who could end up there) who will follow this advice and then lose touch with their child’s online experience and increase the risks to the child’s safety.

Adult caregivers are at different "points on the continuum of successful parenting" and that everyone has the potential to reach the higher levels. I think that the parent educators involved in this online discussion are high on that continuum and few need any parenting help. But the majority of the parents I work with that do need help are on the low end of the continuum, due to economic, social, or personal issues. Many are sent to me by DCF or their therapist. Many live unbalanced lives or suffer from disorders. It has been my experience that these parents are usually incapable of setting up (and keeping in place) monitoring and having joint experiences with their children on the Internet.

The point I'm trying to make is this. If the parent educators in this discussion group are at the high end of the parenting continuum and they choose the belief (different from mine) that they themselves should allow their children to have a Facebook page when they express an interest in it, and to educate their children, discuss it with them, and get engaged in it with their child, then good for them. Because of their position on the continuum, their child will most likely remain safe, become Facebook savvy, and have a good social experience on Facebook. And like others have said in this discussion, they will be more experienced and have their wits about them when they become 16 and 17. Therefore, this makes the choice these parents made, a good choice for them alone. It should not however, be good advice for adult caregivers who are on the low end of the continuum. These parents are less likely (as I said earlier) to have a good relationship with their child, or less likely to have the time and energy (let alone knowledge) to implement safeguards and monitoring measures in place. Because, even if they do, they are less likely to keep up with them due to their unbalanced lives. The result could be the kids being left unattended to do as they please.

But this isn’t just about parents on the low end. Even some who are on the higher end of the continuum implement it, but then can’t keep it in place. One of my clients was an upper middle class mom who had it all going for her. She only disagreed with me on the “access to the Internet” issue and decided to give her two daughters semi-supervised and monitored access to various Internet tools (MySpace and Email) and everything seemed fine. Then her life became unbalance when her husband left her suddenly. The destruction of her marriage and the turbulent divorce consumed her. She was unable to keep up with the joint Internet time she had set up with her daughters and before too long, she gave them full, unsupervised access to alleviate the stress she was experiencing. This is where I say that the parent is burdened (as they should be) with having to keep monitoring and supervising all access to the Internet and related tools. Negative life changes for the parent could cause them to fall a few notches on the parenting continuum.

I am not attempting to villanize Facebook. I use it to maintain my social connections and I know the value of it. When my 13-year-old moves closer to the age of 16, I will take the measures to discuss the safety of Facebook and work with her to have a safe and reasonable online experience. I don’t believe that children and young teens should have Facebook because of two primary concerns; safety and the fact that the addiction of wanting to be on Facebook often will rob them of time better spent for self-discovery and exploration of their inner gifts and talents.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Hanging Out with Our Teens

I have one left at home and she is 13. She is also my stepdaughter and a typical teenage girl. Connecting with a teen is tricky because they have to act like they don’t like their adult caregivers and avoid having to listen to them.  Remember, I said “adult caregivers.”  That means they are very likely to listen to other adults.  It’s just in the wiring of adolescence and we parents just have to deal with it.  Because of this, I always welcome alone time with Olivia, especially on a drive in my truck somewhere.  That’s just how you connect with a teen, by hanging out with them with not a whole lot to say.  I remember letting my own daughter paint my toenails one afternoon after asking her permission to just hang out with her in her room for a bit.

This past Sunday, her mom was singing at church and had to leave early for the first service.  That meant Olivia and I got to sleep in a bit and show up for second service.  As the two of us got into my truck for the 30 minute ride to church, Olivia went to put in her ear buds as usual and to tune out my music and the rest of the world. Just as she was about to turn on her iPod, I offered her the audio jack wire hanging out of my truck stereo.  It’s the wire you connect any portable device to so that it will play over the stereo.  I asked Olivia, “Hey, wanna share your cool music with me?”  A smile overcame her face and she took me up on the offer.  For the next 30 minutes, she jumped from song to song, playing all of her favorites and telling me all of the most obscure things that she knew about each band and the song that was blaring over the truck speakers.

To be honest, it was excruciating!  Every song was sung by 19 to 20-year-olds, crooning about a girl and being in love.  I could have sworn it was the same song over and over, with the words switched around and a different tune.  I hated every song but remembered I was once in her shoes, listening to all the music my mother hated.  I reminded myself that all the music she listens to has been pre-approved by her mother and I before it was downloaded from iTunes.  So if there were no obscenities, screaming, or disrespect toward women in the songs, why did I dislike the music so much?  After much thought about this, I realized that It all comes down to a bit of jealousy.  Watching her face brighten up as she talked about her favorite band singer left me feeling a little hurt over missing that little blond haired girl she once was, whose face I could make light up with horsey-back rides down the hall, tickles at bedtime tuck-ins, and surprises pulled from my pocket when I arrived home from work. 

On the ride back home after the service she talked up a storm even more energized than on the ride there.  As we pulled into the driveway at home, she unplugged my stereo wire from her iPod and plugged her ear buds back in.  In her normal “less excited” tone she simply said, “Thanks,” and walked into the house and disappeared into her room.  I reminded myself that I had just “hung out” with my teen and it was awesome.  It is hard to watch our kids transform through the various stages of development, especially adolescence.  We feel like we’ve lost our babies and it’s hard to let go.  But in those small, brief encounters with our teens, just hanging out, being with them, listening to their music, or letting them paint your toenails, are the ways to let them know you love them and care.