Friday, April 9, 2010

What's Wrong With Kids Today? - Parents

We had a serious dilemma in my home a few years ago. We had a child that was so emotionally hurt that she started acting out in a horrible way. She hurt people physically and mentally. She started shoplifting because she just wanted the things she saw. She didn't care about repercussions. She didn't respond to therapy. She didn't respond to punishment. She didn't respond to positive reinforcement.

She tried to burn down the house. We were at our wits end to find out what to do. Our home life was basically hell and our younger children were afraid, and rightfully so.

I had called the school. No help. I called the police. They were supportive, but they couldn't do a lot. It finally got out how serious things had become when she attempted serious physical bodily harm on one of the children. The school liaison officer stepped in and was extremely understanding and supportive.

It broke my heart to see her taken in a police car and placed in a facility. My dilemma was I was torn as a parent watching my child go somewhere other than home, but I had two other children at home that needed to feel safe as well. This was the hardest time in my life as a parent.

She needed help and she wasn't getting it at home. I didn't go to the police to get out of my parenting duty, I went to get her help because I honestly love her. It's the same reason why, when she got out of the group home a year and half later, I had the store call the police and walked away when she was caught shop lifting. I wanted her to know that she wasn't going to be able to go back to her old habits. I loved her but I wasn't going to allow her to sabotage herself.

I did get horrible looks from the store personnel. I don't think they expected a parent to react that way to less than $5 worth of merchandise. But I informed them that I wanted her punished now while she was still a minor instead of when she was 21 doing the same things and her punishment would be much sterner and on her permanent record.

We did end up discovering what her major problem was that she was harboring. The lack of support from her biological mother also influenced her. She has made major breakthroughs in her life and relationships since letting go of things. She's become more of a loving and caring young woman. She still has a little way to go, but don't we all?

Being a parent is tough. We have to make choices every day when it comes to our children. There are no guarantees that what we do are right, but we have to trust and do what we know will be best in the long run. That's why it's so hard for parents that are more interested in being popular with their kids and are afraid of their children hating them.

Of course there are parents out there who probably should never have become parents to begin with. They are so caught up in their own lives they don't parent at all. These children are neglected and have no idea, for the most part, how to relate to other people. It's sad, but it's part of our society. There are parents that do nothing or little to nothing for their children and then there are those that do way too much.

I've been watching the news reports on Phoebe Prince who was "bullied to death" from classmates in her high school in Massachusetts. It's tragic. Six students tormented this beautiful young lady until she took her own life. Why? Jealousy perhaps. It doesn't matter. In the long run what matters is that someone dropped the ball here long before the bullying started. Because the kids in question should have never started bullying to begin with. They should have been secure enough in themselves that those types of actions weren't a consideration. It's very hard for me to believe that no adult knew what was happening here. Ignorance isn't bliss; it's advocating bad behavior.

I remember walking through my daughter's school a few years ago to retrieve some books from her locker. One of the sports teams was running the hallways. At the end of the pack was a boy that was having problems keeping up. He was trying, but he just didn't have as much stamina as some of the other guys.  Instead of encouraging their team mate, however, I hear "why don't you just stay here. You're worthless and slow. You can just follow us in on our last leg and tell the coach you ran the whole thing." The boy kept up at his slow pace determined to finish, I imagine. But I saw his face and it hurt me. I yelled down the hallway to the team, "Wow! Way to support your team mate guys!"

I've heard the adage "kids are cruel." It's true. But where do they learn it? From the rest of us. When we let it pass and accept it we are actually condoning it. When we call our children names inside the home we are teaching them to call others names outside the home. When we allow siblings to call each other names like "stupid" or "fatty" by ignoring it and letting it pass we are condoning it.

Parenting is a full time job. A lot of parents have to work and rely on day cares or babysitters to help them. That's fine. We have little to no control of what is happening with children when they are out of our sight. But we should make a genuine effort to spend quality time with our children when we have home time even when we are dog tired.

I remember speaking with parents when I was teaching middle school. One of the most common responses I received from parents was, "I don't have time to spend them." I asked, "Do you watch television during the week?" "Do you have time to read the paper?" "Do you spend time talking to your friends on the phone?" "Do you spend time on the computer?" Of course they do, but they call this their own down time.

I'm not saying that parents don't have the right to some personal time. I am saying that when we give birth to children or make a choice to raise a child we have taken on a full time obligation. We are the number one teachers of our children. We need to make sure that we make time. We have to sacrifice.

Somewhere we have to stop and understand that we are parents to our children not friends. It doesn't mean we can't be friendly, but we can't just let things pass. Guilt parenting is not good parenting. Children of all ages need structure. If your teenager is angry with you for enforcing a curfew of 11 or 12 that's a good thing. Let them be angry. Let them know that not everything in their life is going to be exactly how they want it.

Here are some hints for teenage parenting:

1. Make consequences clear.
2. Never back down from what you say. Enforce your rights as a parent.
3. Make time to actually talk to your kids, even if it seems they are talking to you under duress. It shows you care.
4. When they disobey and you are giving them chores or consequences in return put it in writing. Write down exactly what happened and what they have to do to get off of restrictions. Also put on the sheet what happens if they don't follow the guidelines to get off restriction.  Make them repeat it to you or read it to you aloud. Then make them sign it and date it. Put it in plain sight.
5. Never assume that your child is always telling you the truth. Investigate. Sometimes our children aren't lying but are omitting certain facts that might actually put what is going on in a different light. My daughter has come home accusing a teacher of saying certain things and upon investigation I found that what she said was not really true but that she had twisted the words. Why? Because she had a bad grade for not completing an assignment and didn't want us to be angry.
6. Make your child accountable. If they do something wrong make them fix it and don't make excuses or allow excuses.
7. Spend time with your teenager. Even lame time is better than no time. I remember crying and thinking my daughter hated me. It's not true. She loves me. I love her too. Sometimes it just takes time for it to come out.
8. Don't just give your children things. Presents are fine, but making them have to work for something makes them actually appreciate it.
9. Don't beat yourself up when things go wrong. Sometimes things just happen no matter how much we do right. We have to stop and remember that after a certain point our children are older and have to make their own choices. We just need to sit back and be there to support them. It's a learning process for them too.

I don't have all the answers. I don't even think that Dr. Phil has all the answers. Not all kids are the same so not all the punishments will be the same. I have three minors left at home and each of them are treated differently because what works with one won't work with the other. They are individuals.

What does work with each of them? Loving them equally. That's the best I can do.

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