Parenting is one activity that relies on the community. It takes a village to raise a child, someone once quipped. Invariably, this means that when there is a failure in child-rearing, the blame for that has to be communally shared. At the moment, it does appear that this is the case.
There is the general consensus that children are increasingly becoming more selfish, less altruistic, manipulative, and emotionally immature. This is specifically sad because we understand that the family acts as a conduit to society – it grooms the individuals and funnels them into the world. Hence, if we are raising ‘bad’ kids, we can only expect bad adults at the end of the day.
What changed? Why is it inherently harder to raise good kids today? But even more importantly, is there something that can be done about it? Are there actionable steps we could take collectively to change how we raise children?
This article attempts to answer the questions raised above. It is focused on solutions and would provide you with the knowledge you need to better parent your child. In doing this, we would have recourse to some of the best books on the subject. We would glean some wisdom from these authors as we embark on this journey together.
Why is modern-day parenting harder?
Modern-day parents often complain of the complexities of raising kids. This is not precisely new – parents all over the ages have often complained about their wards. However, there seems to be a renewed vigor about these complaints in these modern times. In the section below, we will examine the reasons for this.
Was parenting easier in the past than in the present? The answer is most likely in the affirmative. However, this is not because of modern-day parents’ passivity but is acutely tied to the evolution of new parenting standards.
In the olden times, success in parenting was gauged by how outwardly well-behaved the child was. Thus, once your ward was groomed excellently and towed the societally sanctioned path, you were good to go. However, those standards have changed with time. At the moment, parents now have the added responsibility of grooming their wards emotionally.
This latter standard is inherently harder to attain. In the first place, the marks here are esoteric. There is no one yardstick to determine if a child is improving empathy, kindness, optimism, or healthy self-esteem. Even if there were, these yardsticks are not always available to parents, or at least not as quickly as it is to determine if a child is well fed or has healthy teeth. The elusiveness of these qualities makes parenting seem harder today than before.
Proliferation of information
Today, there are tons of research and information about what it takes to be a good parent. Right from conception, the average parent is inundated with statistics, facts, figures, and myths regarding their child’s education. Even for the most conscientious parent, this can be overwhelming. Parents thus have a more challenging time cherry-picking what would best benefit their child. This is also the reason some parents feel defensive about the choices they make. Whenever their child’s character comes into question, they feel a direct attack on their capabilities and become defensive as a result.
The present-day parent has to grapple with interference in their child’s upbringing on a scale that was absent before. Interference from the internet, peers, teachers, religious leaders, etc., all exist. Thus, it often appears that the parent has to spend time countering narratives which the child may have imbibed outside the home. This more than doubles the work the parent has to do.
How to raise exceptional kids
Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them –
Regardless of the challenges mentioned above, there are some steps you can take to raise your children better. They include:
Self Discipline is a virtue that is missing in society. In a world where everything is permissible, it is hardly surprising to find children without the understanding to resist some vices. This is rather sad as self-discipline is one of the most essential skills for any individual’s success. Paul Tough, in his book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, comes down hard on parents whom he accuses of “overindulging kids, with the intention of giving them everything and being loving, but at the expense of their character…” This is in acknowledgment that self-discipline teaches, grit, a healthy appreciation of labor, compensation, and gratification.
There is no denying that we need a kinder society. Empathy is almost nonexistent, and this can be traced to parents being remiss in helping their kids cultivate this enviable trait. The good thing is, as Dr. Michele Borba teaches in UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, empathy is a transferable skill. She points out seeming innocuous actions such as heaping praise on the child could hamper empathy. Similarly, unnecessary corporal punishment could cause your ward to have a diminished capacity for empathy. This is only a tiny portion of the wisdom she encapsulates in the nine (9) steps she shares for raising empathetic children.
Encourage emotional intelligence
No one is born with a keen sense of emotional intelligence. The trait comes as a result of intentional discipline. Teach your child to recognize and master their emotions. In How to Talk So Your Kids Can Listen and Listen So Your Kids Can Talk, parenting experts Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish point out that understanding what triggers a child’s behavior is the first step in addressing the problems the behavior creates.
Furthermore, in Unselfie, Dr. Borba even draws the correlation between emotional intelligence and outstanding academic performance. Of course, bad behavior should neither be condoned nor encouraged. As much as you’ll recognize how the child feels, they ought to know what behaviors are acceptable even in the grips of intense emotion.
The only way children may understand the meaningfulness of relationships is by watching the real examples. It would help if you modeled the importance of connection and cooperation with them. Pay attention to your own relationships, and they will surely follow suit.
In chronicling the success of her highly acclaimed summit schools, Prepared: What Kids Need for a Fulfilled Life, author Diane Tavenner touches on the importance of relationships. She highlights that students are more likely to succeed when they have strong relationships with peers, family members, and mentors.
A huge part of parenting comes down to communication. These days children (especially teenagers) accuse their parents of not ‘listening’ to them. Ironically, parents also have the same complaint about their children. It isn’t enough to shout yourself hoarse when talking to your child. Faber and Mazlish in How to Talk to Your Child point out that not acknowledging the child’s feelings or being dismissive about it exacerbates the situation. Thus, to communicate correctly, you need to first start by listening well. Pick up cues, interpret the non-verbal signals, and then respond appropriately. The power of communication lies in its ability to shape behavior.
It isn’t enough to wish for better-raised children. As a community, we all have to contribute to shaping the values of the next generation. If we do not, we will just be as guilty, having failed like the generations before us. It is admirable if you are looking to be a better parent. Back up your intentions with actions by reading these books above on the Headway app. If you cannot dedicate the long hours necessary, you could even read the summaries on the platform, too.