In the early 2000’s, I taught in an inner-city school in the Midlands of England. This town is known to have one of the largest teenage pregnancy rates, not only in the UK, but in Europe too. Being a naive twenty-three year old at the time, I was intrigued to find out exactly what was fuelling this trend among teenage girls (*warning* awkward joke ahead – I was not the common denominator). Their response was totally unexpected. According to many of them, it made complete sense to have a child in one's mid-teens as it meant that when one reaches one's early thirties, the child will be old enough to go out partying and drinking with their mother/father. Huh?!?
This is where contemporary society is getting it all wrong. Your child is not your friend; that is the bottom line.
Do I love my daughter? Unquestionably; in fact, since her birth, I have been learning pretty quickly what the Bible means when it talks of unconditional love. Do we laugh together, share stories, play? Yes, yes and yes! Does that make us friends? Not entirely. Our love for one another certainly carries elements of friendship, and yes, to a degree we are friends, but friendship generally doesn't carry with it a relationship governed by some or other hierarchy. Friendships are usually egalitarian; neither party exercises authority over the other – this is the key difference between friendship and parenting.
If I were to neglect the functional needs of my child by not setting age-appropriate boundaries, I would be neglecting my role as a parent. We tend to focus on the emotional role of parenting, which offers trust, support, care, etc for our children, but we should not overlook our functional role. When our children are infants we need to change their nappies, bath them, etc. These are functional roles. As they get older, we should adapt these roles - for instance helping with homework, or setting boundaries, curfews, etc. Children who are wandering the malls and streets aimlessly, drinking, smoking, etc. all lack boundaries. There are so many critics out there who are so worried about “damaging a child’s self-esteem” that they completely overlook the fact that these actions of neglect are damaging their child’s whole life in a sense. The sad thing is, these behaviours filter down from one generation to the next. It becomes self-perpetuating.
Not setting boundaries is neglect. Don’t worry about their reputation being damaged because they have to be home from a party at 22:00, rather focus on the fact that you are instilling a set of rules/boundaries that are being imprinted into their conscience which will ultimately make them a better person. A lack of boundaries does not fade as perhaps school reputations might. We as parents are quickly becoming moths drawn to the lame (this is not a typo). We make emotional decisions which over-protect our children, not allowing them to experience things which will, sooner or later, become reality. Having them avoid things like mud, sand and soil for fear of the odd worm is ultimately denying them the opportunity to be in touch with the earth and experience things first hand – tactile cognitive development; an iPad won’t provide the same level of neuroplasticity (neuron grown in the brain). A proud mother once told me that her young child can do puzzles on the iPad; unfortunately hovering a puzzle piece over another is not the same as physically trying to link them up with one’s own hands.
Now I’m off to have a beer; but I’ll be home by ten o’clock honey!
I would be interested to hear your thoughts. Please feel free to comment in the comment box below.