Some parents, as well as children, may not like the results of the longest longitudinal study ever conducted. Over a period of the last seventy five years and still continuing, The Harvard Grant Study, made landmark findings on how to drive human happiness and success. The most amazing factor found was that people who had carried out more chores and housework in childhood became happier and more self sufficient in adulthood. In certain cases, the value of doing chores out-weighed even the strength of familial bonds.
By insisting that children help out with chores, like taking out the rubbish bins, looking after helping with the dishes, picking up their clothes and being part of a family, children realise that “I have work to do, the work of life, in order to be part of life. It’s not just about me and what I need today, but I am part of a family, an ecosystem, and will eventually be part of a workforce”. This is how you train children to participate in responsibilities and the importance of daily work.
Dr Leonard Sax, Physician, psychologist and internationally acclaimed author, in his recent publication of “The Collapse of Parenting” presents a sad picture documenting the decline of achievement, respect and control, gratitude and humility and the psychological health of children. He states that rising levels of obesity, lack of exercise, depression and anxiety, turbulent behaviour and even addictions among the very young, as well as the prescribing of psychiatric medications to children and young adults, can be traced to parents letting children call the “shots” and having no parameters and little or no discipline in the home. Many parents now shirk away from being dictatorial, or in charge, and end up abdicating their authority and duty, rather than taking a firm stand whilst rearing their children.
The introduction of smart-phones, free texting, playing video games and surfing the net, means that children are becoming increasingly reliant on peers and the media for direction on how to act and how to behave rather than parents giving such guidance at home. In short, Sax argues that parents are failing to prioritise the parent-child relationship and are allowing child-peer dynamics to take precedence over their authority. Thus, resulting in children having no guiding standards of right and wrong, no morals or values, who lack discipline and control and who look to their peers and the Internet for direction, instead of going to their parents.
It is time that parent authority returned to enable children to grow into disciplined and well behaved adults. We look at teenagers drunk and disorderly on our streets every weekend, many dabbling in drugs from an early age. Every day, the occupancy in St. Patricks Institution, a remand centre for males under seventeen, is approximately 129 (2013). It was found that 48% of boys and 34% of girls in remand homes were entirely illiterate. We may say that this is the fault of schools, but all research shows that the first learning for children begins in the home by parents, and that goes for literacy and numeracy as well. An alarming 41% of children in remand homes reoffend over the following three years, adding to the belief that once an offender the chances of learned behaviour continues.
Parents appear to have lost their control in these instances and children have not learned from the experience. The statistics also show that poverty and exclusion are factors in children being remanded for offences, but all parents should be aware that the pitfalls of bad behaviour, including underage drinking and using illegal drugs, are there and readily accessible for all young people today. There is no greater stress on any family than when a child is acting out of control in their community. Children reared with privilege should be reminded regularly that they must show example and not have bad behaviour made acceptable, and excuses made, by who they are or what their background.
Parents today suffer from confusion. On the one hand they are being told that they cannot punish or slap their children and on the other that they are rearing out of control youngsters. Children who behave in a disrespectful way to parents, teachers, peers and the environment, grow up to be disrespectful adults. Recognising the authority of parents and ensuring that children conform to the rules and regulations set out for them are the first acts of discipline a child will learn. Too often in today’s world the parents allow their desire to please their child to govern their parenting. Sometimes this may be because of their working hours and the little time left for sitting down and talking to their children. It is often the case that the parent who puts the child’s wishes first may earn only the child’s contempt, not their love. A parent’s duty is to focus on teaching their child to become a responsible adult.
Children and teenagers need unconditional love and acceptance. They may throw a tantrum when being reeled in, but they still know that parents love them. Whereas children who depend on their peers for love and support, which is always conditional, are unable to provide the stability needed when growing up and will suffer the consequences.
Parents need to teach children from a young age the value of self- control, perseverance, honesty and truthfulness. When you teach children to be conscientious, which is a major forecaster of a useful, productive and fulfilled life, you are giving them the tools to be more successful in the work place and in relationships. Many studies show that rearing a young adult to be conscientious ensures them of having more money and having more satisfaction in later life. Data also shows that they have better health and live longer lives and they are less likely to use drugs and alcohol or engage in risky sexual behaviours. Being conscientious means having self control, discipline and keeping to your word, and is one of the biggest predictors of success in all walks of life.
Teaching your children by good example is an inescapable truth. Parents must give good example themselves in self control and self discipline and enforce rules that promote these values. When children are taught the importance of showing gratitude and appreciation, saying “please” and “thank you”, being courteous, that every choice they make has far reaching and unforeseen consequences and the importance of integrity and honesty, this is the eventual adult that your child will become. When you teach children humility and the acceptance that all people are equal and deserving of respect, that makes for good citizenship. When you teach children to have the courage to stand up for what is right, even if no one else does, is an admirable way to instruct children. There is no greater responsibility or duty on any parent than to rear a child with qualities and values that will form the core of their lives and attitudes and how they will eventually grow up to be adults that you are proud of and can take their place in society.
In addition to teaching children life-skills that will remain in their minds, teaching the importance of religious beliefs and practice and praying and attending church services together, having enough of sleep, limiting time on screens, are all necessary virtues that will bring happiness and contentment in their lives.
Enjoy rearing your child, as all too soon they become independent thinkers and doers, and that important time when you have the influence and the power to have a loving interaction with them, that will have long-term implications on another human being, will pass by. Having a balance of listening, doing and sharing the meaning of life will return great benefits to any parent when the child becomes an adult. That their off- spring will have become a loving, caring, responsible citizen that understands and contributes to the needs of others will be your joyous return . You can then know you are and have been a good parent.