IT'S Saturday. Your spouse has to be away, and you have spent a
good part of the day with your young children. Now you need to get
some of your own work done, and you plan to give them a quick lunch
before they play with friends. But they have other ideas; they are
clamoring to go to McDonald's. Desperate to stop the badgering, you
tell them that McDonald's is closed on weekends. They believe you
and eat the lunch you have planned.
*You are called by a neighbor, who reports that she caught your
nine-year-old son and three other boys vandalizing her garage roof.
You write a check to cover your child's part in the damage and you
remind your neighbor that "they are only kids" and will outgrow
this kind of behavior.
*You drop your 16-year-old off at the home of a friend. You
later find out that no adult was home and that a big party occurred
- involving beer, fighting, and destruction of property. Since the
boy's parents have no names of those involved, you don't contact
them; you don't want any repercussions for your son. You simply
tell him to be more careful.
Each of these situations was an opportunity to help children
grow, but instead the experience worked to their detriment. Adults
can't teach the right lessons if we begin with the wrong premises.
It's a tragedy that our society, which claims to value its
children, is in fact failing them, despite parents' efforts to
sacrifice for their children.
Unselfish parents sometimes have self-centered children. One
reason might be that parents can sacrifice too much, and in the
wrong ways. Some are even reluctant to assign household chores,
because the young child's world should always be "fun." They
believe that every activity - a dentist appointment, toilet
training, eating, a day at school - must be made enjoyable, so that
the child will not be "stressed." One parent we know recently
described her child's life as "a never-ending birthday party." But
we think children are not truly happy when nothing is demanded of
them and everything is done for their entertainment.
If children and teenagers are restless, irresponsible,
apathetic, and self-centered, parents might be following too much
of the "experts' " advice and not enough intuition. Children will
usually deliver the degree of individual competence and social
responsibility that adults expect - and our expectations have
lessened with each generation. The result is that many virtues once
considered normal have been lost - or at least temporarily buried.
Parents are now told that a child's "self-esteem" is to be
preserved and enhanced at all costs. But in separating self-esteem
from any conduct that a child is responsible for, we actually
diminish that child's feelings of self-worth. …