Monitor Board of Contributors: Parents must not be afraid to discipline their kids
I have been practicing pediatrics for 27 years and have noticed many issues with the discipline of our children. I know that every generation says they will be different than their parents, and many times that is a good thing. However, I wonder if we have gone too far in making the world more “child-centered.” Children used to be raised to respect rules and especially adults who were in charge as teachers, coaches and parents. Now it seems that many children rule the roost, and parents are afraid to discipline them.
Several years back I was counseling a parent about disciplining her 4-year-old son. He wouldn’t go to bed at night and kept running out of the room until he was exhausted at about 10 p.m. He had to be up by 7 a.m., so his mother was upset that he was very tired in the morning. I told her that she needed to keep putting him back in his room as soon as he came out and continue until he stayed in his room.
She said, “But Dr. Edwards, I can’t do that.”
When I asked her why, she told me that it made him cry. I replied that the crying meant that her message was getting through and that it was better to have him cry now than be a defiant teenager. Fortunately she took my advice, and soon he was sleeping well and obeying her better in other situations also.
As parents in this era, we try to give our children every benefit and opportunity and to cushion them from any difficulties. The downside is that children seem to be less resilient as time goes on.
If every child gets a trophy at a competition, and there are no winners and losers, then they don’t learn how to accept defeat and try to work harder to be successful next time.
Maybe this doesn’t seem to affect them as young children, but what happens when their college professor gives them a poor grade and their parent isn’t there to fix it?
What happens when that first boss fires them, even if they did nothing to deserve it? They weren’t given the opportunity to fail and learn to deal with failure when they were younger, so they don’t have the skills to deal with the failure now. We often learn more from our failures than our successes, and children need to learn in this way also, with our support to help them get through it.
The need to always be the best is also part of the bullying problem.
If we don’t teach our children to be respectful to their parents, how can we expect them to be respectful of their peers? Creating a culture of entitlement gives people the feeling that they have the right to mistreat others. This applies not only to children and teens but also to some of their parents. The young people who are taking a stand against bullying and disrespect of others deserve our support and praise. They are realizing they need to protect their peers and make their schools and groups more safe and accepting. We are definitely seeing this as the younger generation embraces gay and lesbian youth and nontraditional families.
Another thing that contributes to such challenges is social media. This is the first generation to be so tied into the internet, especially over the past several years. My children are now in their early 20s, and when they were in grade school none of their friends had cell phones. By high school almost all of their friends had cell phones and were texting, and MySpace had come into common use. So I only had to deal with it at a high school level when my kids had developed enough social skills to avoid getting caught up in social-media problems.
Now many grade-school children have cell phones, texting, iPads, iPods, Kindles, Xbox Live, etc. Not only do these devices allow children to have access to many people their parents don’t know, they also are so addicting that they take time away from real social activities. People will often say things on Facebook or in a text that they would never say to someone they were actually talking to.
It is a parent’s right and often responsibility to turn off the internet and the phone. As parents we shouldn’t strive to be our children’s friends, allowing them to do as they please, but to be their parents and help them navigate this increasingly “small” world.
My advice to parents is that they confidently take back their role as parents and disciplinarians so that they can raise confident, caring and loving children who will be the responsible, respectful adults that we want them to grow up to be.
I would like to thank everyone who has written in about the columns I’ve contributed as a member of the Monitor’s Board of Contributors. I am so pleased to see the care and concern Concord residents have for the children of our community. I plan to write more columns over the upcoming year that I hope will cause discussion about our youth.
In today’s culture they need all the support and nurturing they can get. They also need our protection when it comes to health-related issues, both psychological and physical.
I look forward to reading everyone’s comments and hope our discussions will create the “village” in our community that all children need.
(Patricia Edwards of Bow is a pediatrician and president of Concord Pediatrics in Concord.)