Advice on Parenting Switches From Laxity To Tighter Discipline
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But freedom has its obvious limits. Gosman observes that there are many ways to spoil a child, among them lack of discipline, tolerance of mediocre effort, and lack of responsibility.Skip to next paragraph
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And, of course, overindulgence. As one example, he tells of a newly divorced mother who moved into a two-bedroom apartment with her two teenage daughters. The mother slept on the couch so her daughters could have separate rooms.
"On the one hand, it's very considerate," says Gosman. "On the other hand, it gives the daughters the feeling that Mom has no value compared to them. They'll probably indulge their children like that." He cautions, "As we give our children more and more, we seem to be demanding and receiving less and less."
Patrick O'Donnell, a lawyer in Berkeley, Calif., and the father of a nine-year-old daughter, asks rhetorically, "Are kids more demanding now? Are the boundaries less clear? I think so. There's a lot more negotiation."
Yet Mr. O'Donnell and his wife, Barbara Gates, a writer and editor, see many laudable aspects to parenthood today. "Compared to my parents, we spend a lot more time with our daughter, which is positive," he says. "Pretty much all the parents I know are working hard to spend more time with their kids. They're also involved with soccer and after-school activities."
Time together as a family is, in fact, one of Ehrenhsaft's prime ingredients for good discipline and structure. To help working parents, she says, employers need to provide more family-friendly programs that give parents more time and support. Yet parents bear responsibility too. "It's fine to say that workplaces don't give us enough time, but we also overschedule our lives, and our children's lives as well."
Gosman adds, "Our kids need discipline, direction, love, and the gift of our time. Nothing more, nothing less."
Damon, who has just published "The Youth Charter: How Communities Can Work Together to Raise Standards for All Our Children," also urges parents to join with others in their community and use them as resources. This, he says, will "help children have a good experience in school and on sports teams."
Providing some spiritual or religious experience, and encouraging volunteer work, with efforts to help other people, can also promote family strength and discipline, he says.
Whatever a family's need for more discipline or less-indulgent child rearing, family experts offer this advice to parents: Be kinder to yourselves. Stop trying to be perfect, and follow your intuition.
"Parents need to give themselves credit for all the good they do," says Gosman. "Parents are too quick to bash themselves. They do a wonderful job of juggling things in a very busy life. Children aren't the only ones who deserve hugs. We all do."
What Parents Can Do
* Think of two or three changes you want to make. Tell your children about them and follow through. "Maybe it's disciplining appropriately and thinking of some effective consequences," says author Fred Gosman. "Maybe it's giving a child a clothing allowance. Maybe it's limiting the number of Christmas gifts."
* Expect more from children. Many children have very few household responsibilities, or any way to feel they're contributing. "A child who can program a VCR is capable of running the washer and dryer," says Mr. Gosman.
* Cut back on television. Videotapes allow a family to decide what to watch."Our daughter doesn't ever watch commercial television," says Patrick O'Donnell, whose daughter is 9. "She does watch videos, and she reads books. That makes life easier in the sense that we can control what our time is being spent on. The added benefit is certainly less exposure to commercial influences."
* Reconsider commitments and activities, and cut back if necessary. "Parents should look at what they're trying to pack into their lives," says author Diane Ehrensaft. "Perhaps it's too much."
* Talk to other parents to find ways to resolve common problems. "We're all embarrassed to call other parents and say, 'Hey, let's set a limit on these ridiculous birthday party expenditures,'" says Gosman. "We think the kids will be embarrassed if we do. But the other parents would probably nod their heads and say, 'Finally, a voice of reason.' "