Have we given our children an edge or set them up for trouble later?
Everyone wants to give their children a bit of the childhood they never had. Many modern-day parents were raised to be “seen and not heard,” not often asked for their opinions or allowed to make many decisions. Fast-forward to a generation that is raising children whose opinions carry almost as much — if not more — weight in the family unit as that of the parents. What could be wrong with treating kids like adults?
We all want to raise children who are capable of making competent decisions and able to problem-solve on their own. This is difficult if we haven’t given them chances to succeed — and fail — at choices and decisions as they were growing up. The key is to balance the power you give them with the responsibility that comes with it.
Deborah Gilboa, M.D. — also known as Dr. G — is a board certified family physician, parenting expert, author and mother of four who loves to help parents increase their knowledge and follow the parenting instincts they already have. “We do our kids a great service when we empower them,” she says. “The ability to express their feelings, make informed decisions and navigate the world around them are crucial skills that only practice will develop.” Teaching our kids from a young age what it means to express his opinions, yet still be able to work together with others is a life lesson well spent. “Empowering helps, as it encourages children to use the power they have in a way that benefits themselves, the family and society,” adds Dr. G.
Many people who became parents in the 1980s and 1990s pushed away from their authoritarian upbringing and swung to the opposite extreme — being permissive. “Live and let live, let kids be free,” said Carol Bruess, head of the Family Studies program at the University of St. Thomas, when she described a style of parenting mostly centered on kids’ self-esteem and happiness.
While all children need a healthy dose of self-esteem, too much focus inward makes it hard to work together for a common purpose. These same kids have difficulty as young adults, when they begin to enter the workforce and need to blend into a work culture with structure and expectations.
Dr. G cautions that there is a difference between empowering our kids and putting them in charge. “We do our kids a disservice when we put them in charge,” she says. “Kids need to know how to express those feelings respectfully. Their decisions may not override our decisions.” She adds that as our kids navigate the world, they must be bound by our family rules and values. “Kids and teens need to see the consequences of their actions and learn to serve others — these two lessons will make sure that empowered doesn't become entitled,” she concludes.
How can you give your kids the power to feel confident and able to make decisions, yet keep them from feeling better than everyone else? Start by letting your child make simple decisions — partially controlled by you — from a young age. For example, a 3-year-old boy is perfectly capable of choosing his own shirt for preschool if you provide him with two or three acceptable choices. You are still controlling the outcome, but he’s making the choice and learning.
As your kids get older, raise the stakes a bit. Tweens can plan a family meal or make decisions about which movie to watch for family movie night, while an older teen may be allowed to choose a destination for a weekend day trip. Trial and error is the key to learning, so support their decisions as they learn but be their safety net. They need to see that you are in charge — but are trusting them to make decisions.
Kids need self-esteem and happiness — just make sure you balance it with structure, rules and compassion for others.
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