Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Growing Up Responsibly

My son and I sometimes have one of those confrontations that, frankly, I'm glad don't happen very often. We both stake out our positions and dig in. The inevitable result, unless he can make a very good, reasoned, compelling argument to change my mind, is that he does as I say. It may take a while to get to that point, but get there we do.

Our situation isn't unique, is it? The same situation is played out in families around the world, millions of times per day. As children grow up, they begin to assert their independence. Overall, that is a good thing. Children need to be able to function on their own and to take responsibility for themselves.

But things have changed over the last few decades. In this namby-pamby, feel-good world, parents are often afraid to take a principled or reasoned stand when their children want something. They don't want to hurt the child's feelings. They don't want to damage the child's self-esteem. They want to be best friends with their child. They want to be liked. They feel guilty because they contribute 'stuff' to their children, rather than the attention the kids really need. So what do they do? They give the kid more stuff.

How many toys and gadgets do kids really need to be happy? They don't need every new toy that comes out or every new electronic game or the newest designer sneakers. What they really need is the combination of time and guidance that parents often aren't willing to give.

Kids sometimes think that their parents should have little or no control over them. Where do they get that idea from? Perhaps from watching the myriad TV shows that portray parents (especially fathers) as bumbling, incompetent and stupid. If parents allow their children to manipulate them, it will become part of an ongoing pattern, one of many similar acts to come, all leading inevitably and inexorably to disaster.

I am an individualist. I want my son to be an individualist. I want to him to think about everything he does and says. I don't want him to follow blindly whatever other kids are doing in an attempt to be 'cool' or to 'fit in.' So, I don't expect blind obedience from him. I am perfectly willing to listen to a reasoned argument and to adjust my position on anything, if he can make a case that is persuasive. Still, once I say my final 'no,' that's it. Any further argument will simply make things worse.

Parents have an enormous responsibility towards their children. How their children interact with others, their attitude towards life, everything about them, is influenced and molded by their parents. The parents can be active or passive in the raising of their children. Either way, they are ultimately responsible for how well prepared their children are to face the world and its challenges and to interact with their fellow man.

I know there are times when I am not at the top of my son's popularity chart. That hurts me. It would hurt me even more if he grew up to be an irresponsible, lazy, shiftless and obnoxious adult.

I know he will turn out just fine. In the meantime, I'm doing my best to be a good father. Does anyone know what I did with the 'Pre-teen Son User Manual?'

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