Spare the rod, spoil the child?

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And herein lies the danger. If they lack the fortitude to forge their own path and life fails to meet the unrealistic expectations they have placed on it, where does it lead? We perhaps do not need the distressing figures from the office of national statistics to point us towards the rising tide of teenage and early adult suicide, self-harm and profound psychological issues. Children need to learn how to deal with situations and how to manage their response to these. This ‘learning’ is often unconscious yet profound. Ideally, a child will feel secure enough not to fall apart when navigating murky waters and will be able to manage more difficult feelings with a sense of inner security and robustness.

Similar things are happening in many parts of the world. A few years ago we heard of the little emperor phenomenon coming out of China, the product of a one child policy and a growing middle class. Parents did what came naturally with this growing affluence…they spoilt their offspring. What they forgot in the midst of their changing fortune was to remind their children of who they were. Traditional obligations did not sit well with the false sense of empowerment their pampered childhoods had given them. Likewise, the X-factor generation and the one waiting in the wings, is being failed. They are being plied with a version of the world that is not true, one which reflects desire rather than reality. We see it played out on our screens and in our papers…the moments when grossly distorted notions of entitlement bump up against the real world and sadly, their true self. The good intentions of their parents have created a disconnect between belief and reality and when they became aware of it, it becomes a recipe for disillusionment, apathy and in the end futile and destructive anger. Perhaps even more damaging, is the sad reality that material possessions and saying yes to demands are often easier to give than emotional sustenance and healthy boundaries. This will not be lost on the child in the long term and they will feel the effects of this neglect.

There is a middle ground though. As has been discussed, kids need love and attention, but they also need limits and rules. I know what I’m saying is the written equivalent of teaching grandma to suck eggs, but it is surprising how many parents omit to provide a proper structure for their child and a clear articulation of what is expected. All people (albeit unconsciously) require a stable and secure set of ground rules. Damage occurs with either under- responsiveness and neglect or intrusiveness and abuse. We need to look to ourselves and to our own past to ensure we are able to think for the child’s best interest. Rules are the boundaries that cordon off a giant, unknowable, untameable world and make it manageable and less scary. It is the same reason people look to God or other forms of spiritual succour. They provide a framework to place on the random accumulation of events, things and people that we call the world. As a parent, the power and responsibility is undeniable. We are the creator of their world and their place in it and we set up the fundamental groundwork from which they are destined to build on and pass down to their children.

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