Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The Crisis in Modern Parenting

This article has appeared several times on my Facebook newsfeed:
I don't like it. Firstly, I think it is very easy for a Nanny to make judgements, separated as she is from the all-encompassing love felt by a parent. Secondly, I believe it is the parenting style she - and other childless parenting "experts" - advocates that is causing the parenting crisis she speaks of. Before I had children, I was a teacher. In a secondary school. I came across hundreds of children each week. I had some pretty big views on how children should be brought up too. I watched Supernanny and nodded vehemently as she told the parents off and corrected the children. I ascribed to the idea of the naughty step and reward charts. As a teacher - like the Nanny who wrote the article - I felt qualified to hand out parenting advice. Hadn't I seen more children than any of these parents I had to speak to? 

But then I started to think about how these methods were implemented in the classroom. Detentions and credits were the norm. But they weren't helping difficult children in my classes to improve. Fear of punishment wasn't making them work harder; the offer of a reward wasn't helping to strive for better grades. Ironically, it was my lowest set who showed the most improvement and this was because I had to deal with them in a very different way. They needed tlc, having been told so often that they were not very good - behaviourally and academically. They needed to see the intrinsic benefits of learning. And many of them did eventually see that. There appeared a love of learning in that lesson, and a vast improvement in reading and writing levels. However, it wasn't until I got pregnant with B that I realised that my love for the Supernanny method was misplaced and that the "attachment" teaching that I had been doing with my bott set was a far better way. I maintain that the hardest children to teach are those who expect to be rewarded for doing well - they have no intrinsic desire to succeed, and instead a desire for increasing rewards. Where a credit had once been welcomed for an A grade, it was soon no longer enough. A credit became expected for completing work, then for listening quietly. Eventually there was no reward great enough. Pupils who need fear of punishment to work are almost equally difficult to teach. They don't have an intrinsic desire to learn either. Their desire is to avoid being sent out or put in detention. The punishments have to get bigger and bigger to have the same effect. And often the punishments meted out in school don't come anywhere near those received at home. 

But that's teaching - a very different ball game, right? Parents need the methods given in this article, don't they? They need to show their children who's the boss, otherwise those manipulative little creatures will destroy everything in their paths, becoming selfish and entitled. 

I have to disagree with a huge amount of the article. There are elements of truth in there, but I think the main reason parenting is in crisis is the lack of respect in our society for children. They are treated as inconveniences, as inferior. How will they learn to be respectful if they are not first given respect? Tantrums are not learned behaviour; they are an instinctive reaction to difficult situations. Toddler's/young children's brains are not fully developed; they don't understand their own emotions; they don't have the capacity for controlling themselves. It is our job as parents to teach them what they are feeling, to give them the words to describe their emotions, and to help them to behave appropriately. "It is ok to be angry; it is not ok to scream at/hit/kick me. I'm sorry that my decision has made you feel this way, but the answer is still no. I will help you to feel better." If we treated our children the way we treat our friends, or the way we would like to be treated, we would be raising a much healthier, kinder, more respectful generation. 

Why does everything with children have to come down to power struggles? I'm not in charge - I just know more about the world than my children do. It is my responsibility to show them how to be a responsible person in this world. I want them to grow up able to make their own choices instead of needing to be told what to do; to say no to peer pressures rather than blindly obeying someone who seems more powerful;  to express their emotions in a safe and healthy manner, rather than lashing out or repressing them. If we treat them the way we want them to become, then they're far more likely to treat us right as they grow up. 

And I will always be there to help my children when they fall, to feed them and clothe them, to give them a drink in the night if they are thirsty. I'm far from perfect, but I'm striving to be a loving, respectful parent. I don't want to just love my children; I want them to grow up feeling that love, knowing every day that I love them. Because knowing something is true from our own experience is far more influential in our lives than being told something and being expected to believe it without evidence. And I strive for this because it is what I have received from my own parents. But, more importantly, it is what I have received from my Heavenly Father - God, the perfect parent.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:9-12 NIV)


  1. I totally agree with respecting children, babies and young people - they're people and you treat them as you want to be treated, you show them how to behave.
    I do believe though that you are in charge, there are inevitable rare times when you've exhausted all explanation and end up with 'because I say so'.
    There will be regular power struggles when your child gets older and feels they are experienced and intelligent enough to do what they choose, and you have to have maintained an authority.
    And I totally agree with you about the reward and punishment - it's ridiculous. They want a gold star for eating their blinking breakfast these days - no. Rewards are for something exceptional, as are punishments, they aren't everyday, or even every week.

  2. Thank you for commenting. Do you not think that there may well be far fewer power struggles in later years if we invest in the attachment and respect in the younger years? That a child who knows their voice and opinion are valid and listened to will be more open to discussion and sensible, thoughtful - perhaps even wise - decision making?