Friday, August 27, 2010

Best Friends vs. Authority Figures

While I am still waiting for Voc. Rehab. to contact me about my new computer and graphics software, I thought you might like to read an article I wrote for Associated Content.

Best Friends vs. Authority Figures

Should parents be best friends, authority figures, or both to their children? Only in recent years has this question plagued parents. In the past, parents were clearly expected, by society, to be authority figures to their children. Being friends with their children was not even a question to ponder. Parents who spoiled, or were too gentle with, their children were scorned and ridiculed by their peers. Children were expected to do what they were told and not talk back to their parents, teachers, or anyone in authority.
Extreme cases of this style of parenting sometimes led to child abuse. An inability to form loving connections to others was another consequence of this strict, authoritarian, style of parenting. Today, there is a growing trend for parents to be more worried that their children may get mad at them, or not like them, than they are concerned that their children learn to practice self control and to respect authority.

Is this new trend in parenting good for children and society in general? The answer to this question will give us the answer to the first question. The effects of parents being friends only to their children can be observed at an early age. Most of us have seen examples of this in grocery stores when small children are observed throwing temper tantrums to get what they want. The "friendly" parents are observed bargaining with these children or giving in to their screaming toddlers rather than standing firm and clearly stating the impending consequences of such disruptive behavior.

When these same children enter school, they are unprepared for such a structured setting where they are expected to behave themselves. Teachers must spend a great deal of time dealing with these children. They are then able to spend less time teaching or giving attention to the other students. There are no winners in this situation. The misbehaving child feels isolated because he/she is different from the other students. They are often teased by their peers for acting like a baby, and generally unable to benefit from the lessons being taught. The other students are less able to concentrate. The teacher is less able to teach.

During adolescence, the child being raised by "friendly" parents often has a home that looks and seems more like a flop house than a home. Children are coming and going at all hours of the day and night. There may be little to no adult supervision. Many of these children have almost unlimited access to alcohol, drugs, firearms, etc.

On December 5, 2007, a 19-year-old boy named Robert Hawkins walked into the Von Muar Mall in Omaha, Nebraska and shot to death eight people. Two others were wounded. Robert then turned the gun on himself, committing suicide, showing as little regard for his own life as he did his victim's lives. On January 7, 2009, Dr. Phil interviewed the gunman's mother, Molly. She admitted to smoking marijuana with her son because he told her that he really enjoyed doing this with the mother of one of his friends. Apparently, this killer's mother was so afraid that her child would like someone's else's mother more than herself, she was willing to break the law to please him. The new trend of "friendly" parenting is not good for society. While most cases of "friendly" parenting do not result in such extreme consequences, it is at this stage of development when the parents usually realize that their screaming toddler has turned into an almost grown man, or woman, who has no respect for themselves, or anyone else, and will stop at nothing to get their own way. Speaking of television shows, if it were not for “friendly parenting”, Supernanny would be out of a job.

After adolescence, these spoiled, disrespectful, and often dangerous, young adults are next turned loose on society. They are the young adults who can't keep jobs because their boss was mean and actually expected them to be on time and do a full day's work. Many of them refuse to leave home and continue to be provided for by their parents, who now feel guilty for not better preparing their children for adulthood, and are all too happy to relieve their guilt by continuing to give in to the demands of their children and not have their grown children mad at them.

Perhaps the answer to the question, "Should parents be best friends, authority figures, or both to their children?”, can best be answered by children themselves. In an informal survey of 52 high school students, conducted by this author on January 9, 2009, the results revealed a great deal of wisdom on the part of teenagers. 2% of the students believes that parents should be friends only. 10% of the students believes that parents should be authority figures only. 82% of the students believes that parents should be both best friends and authority figures to their children. 6% of those surveyed was undecided. Clearly, children themselves want to be both guided and provided with companionship by their parents. Isn't that what a true friend does, be a companion and offer guidance and support?

In conclusion, a balance between authority figure and friend is best for parents, children, and society. This approach is not easy. It requires a great deal of emotional and physical effort applied consistently over many years. The effort is well worth it when, as a parent, you witness the child you raised, both as a friend and with boundaries, guidelines and responsibilities, leave your home and become a productive, confident, joyful, member of society. 

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