Dr. Joseph George Professor Pastoral Counselling United Theological College Bangalore
Parenting is a unique responsibility, actively providing a safe and nurturing environment, which has long lasting impact on the children. The nature of parenting deeply influence and impact the thought process, emotional development, relational skills, professional aptitude and personal competence of the younger generation. Parents exert tremendous influence on the children, consciously and unconsciously. The internalization process of a child is impacted by what is experienced in the family environment. Most psychologists agree that parenting determines the nature of personality development and character traits. Why do we hear a lot of complaints about children and teenagers? Why do we hear a lot of complaints about parents? One of the major issues in this regard is the style of parenting. Positive parenting experiences help the child to develop positive self-perception, self-esteem, and adequate life management skills whereas negative experiences in the family could cause inner disturbance, relational problems, and difficulty with personal and professional competence.
The parenting process must show responsiveness to the child’s intellectual, emotional, relational, spiritual, and physical needs which would foster in the child an ability to be compliant with parental expectations and directions. The need fulfillment is central during the childhood and adolescent years. Parents, with marital fulfillment and higher level of maturity, are likely to positively affirm their children. This would mean affirming them in their physical appearance, intellectual pursuits, positive thinking, spiritual formation, and social skills. If the parents act indifferent to the children’s needs and ignore them they are likely to react negatively that cause poor life management skills. Children with rejection and abandonment are likely to develop indifferent, hostile, and anti-social behavior.. Parents who are always demanding, critical, and unhappy with their kids develop depressive tendencies in them which is an unpleasant and disturbing experience. Parenting with warmth, acceptance, understanding, and graceful interactions would help socially adaptable and personally competent children.
The parenting styles could be classified into three major categories which are presented below with their direct and indirect impact on the children and teenagers.
Authoritarian Type: Restrictions and Limitations
In authoritarian type the parents indicate strong tendency and the needy to be in absolute control of their children. Their thought process, emotions, attitudes, values and actions are expected to be in perfect harmony with parental expectations. These parents value and expect absolute obedience from their children all the time. The intellectual, emotional, relational, social and spiritual formation is directly controlled by the parents. Even their attitudes and belief systems are monitored by parents. The children are to adapt to the parental world. Any disobedience (going away from the parental expectations) is understood as bad behavior and needs to be punished. In such families expression of affection and care is very limited and appreciation and praise becomes a rare thing to experience. When a minor issue emerges the children are criticized heavily that make them feel guilty, fearful, incompetent, and emotionally disturbed. There is no space for developing independent thinking, creative action, and life-management skills. Their ability for creative intellectual and emotional development is curtailed by rigid parental demands and expectations.
Children from such homes are normally very obedient but they do have disturbing personal and relational development. In these families one would find order and routine as they are enforced. The kids from this context appear most of the time distrustful, emotionally withdrawn, dissatisfied with themselves and others, indifferent and hostile, poor achievement, and at times even rebels. On the other hand, children coming from families with freedom and creativity develop personal and professional competence in managing their life.
Permissive Type: Total Freedom and No Restrictions
The permissive type of parenting give absolute freedom to the children to do what they want to do and least concerned about the correctness of their action. In such families there is less respect for order and routine. Often parents do not expect any obedience from the children and relatively no demands. There is a lack of discipline on both the parents and the children. Children are allowed to use the resources without even making them think about responsible behavior. Such parents rarely punish their children. Outwardly such parents appear warm and mature but their anxiety, fears, and impatience is hidden. If the parents are without order and routine, they feel guilty for expecting the same from the children. In these situations most of the time children exploit and manipulate the parents for their own interests and desires.
Children from such parenting might appear confident, courageous and capable of managing their life. But this is only an external superficial layer and underneath one may find the deficiencies of such children. They might be highly manipulative, secretive, and self-centered. They might be willing to do anything to make themselves happy even if that meant unhappiness for others. They are least interested in other’s welfare. They have less control on their thoughts, emotions, and actions. They certainly would have issues with creative thinking, responsible action, and self-reliance. They will be happy to find enjoyment at the cost of others. Though pampering is a natural process and helps in the process of affirmation, over-pampering would certainly limit the possibilities of mature growth process. They are least interested in guidance from others. So often we hear kids say, “leave me alone, I know what to do.”
Democratic Type: Freedom with Responsibility
This type of parenting stresses on the democratic values and principles while giving due attention to the freedom and responsibly in children. Freedom is allowed but always with some limits which are clearly defined. In such families love and affection is visible while limits are strictly enforced. Children are given space for expressing their views, opinions, questions, and requests and parents listen with interest and concern. Children could also contribute to the discussion when it comes to decision making process in which they are directly involved. For example, in the selection of a school or college or a study programme children must have a role in deciding what they are going to study. This makes the children feel that they are involved in the family process and that parental wishes are not enforced on them which make them disown the decisions. The parents with democratic values show that they are interested in the children’s opinions, views, and interests but would see that adult decision is final with their consent and understanding. So in this pattern one may find the parents affectionate, consistent, and also demanding in line with their expectations. What is important here is most of these parents are reasonable in their expectations and realistic in their standards. There is no point in expecting 90% grade from a child whose academic ability is on the average level. Most of the time unhappy situations in the families are linked to unrealistic expectations and unreachable standards set by the adult world.
With the democratic style of parenting the children develop relational and emotional maturity as well as intellectual and professional competence. They reflect strength for fulfilling commitments and are focused on responsibilities. They engage with the family with enthusiasm and creative interactions. Most of the children from such homes do show their ability for setting goals and working on them without feeling distracted. They experience a sense of satisfaction with regard to personal and interpersonal experience as well as professional achievements. They are likely to reflect self-management ability, skillful in managing their relationships, mostly friendly, generous and graceful, cooperative and task oriented, and find fulfillment in their achievements.
Parenting Challenges Today:
Parenting is supposed to focus on the holistic development with reference to the intellectual, emotional, social, physical, and spiritual formation of the children and teenagers. The styles and techniques in parenting should help with the overall development of the kids. The changing socio – economic-cultural and family environment has caused many concerns and challenges which need to be addressed for creating safe and secured environment for the younger generation. A few of the major challenges, both in the rural and urban context, is discussed below.
Disappearance of the Extended Family and the Community
One of the major concerns in the contemporary society across the globe is the disappearance of the extended family which had been a stable support system for the younger generation by providing a physically and emotionally safe environment. During my childhood I had the experience of being taken care by the grandparents or the next family in the neighborhood whenever my parents were away. Along with my siblings I move to their space where we not only found a safe environment but also a nurturing environment by meeting physical and emotional needs. The grandparents strongly believed that they are a part of the family system and caring for the grandchildren was their God-given obligation. This caring and supportive environment has disappeared with the appearance of paid care-givers in the form of crèches and day care centres where children spend long hours, depriving them of a safe and nurturing environment. In these Centres the young children are given books to read, instructions to follow strictly, plastic and wooden toys as their companions, and very less emotionally connected interactions.
Academic Performance and Stress
Any discussion on academic performance by parents always indicates how they are anxious and stressed about the performance of the children. Only a few percentage of parents are satisfied with the performance of their kids. I have heard parents complaining on the children even after they obtain an average 90% in their examination. Most often the parents complain about children not studying, watching TV too much, too much time on the mobile, too much time for play, too much time with friends, not being attentive in the class and the mark they obtained is not acceptable. Many of these parents complain and criticize their children every day indicating their unhappiness due to the ‘poor performance’ of their children. The academic and career world give a lot of importance to marks and most parents today are anxious about managing their children with reference to study. A mother tells the neighbour that her son obtained 85% in the 12th examination whereas his mark card shows only 58%. A teenager forced to adopt a ‘lying mode’ to please his mother every day whose demands on him is very high. He tells the counsellor that his fake behavior is to make his mother happy. When parents expect too much the children are forced to adopt negative behaviors, such as running away from home, not going to school, negative friendships, emotionally withdrawn from parents, and suicidal tendencies. During the examination and at the time of getting results many teenagers attempt / commit suicide not due their failure but the fear of rejection by parents. Academic achievement is only one aspect of human development and over-emphasis on marks going to be stressful always.
Discipline in the Family
Another major area of concern is with regard to the disciplining of children. Every parent is concerned about the personal formation of the children and they adopt methods and strategies, in their opinion, would make them matured children and teenagers. When children do mistake what kind of punishments? The permissive and authoritarian parenting styles are defective in their approaches as one focuses on total freedom while the other focuses on absolute parental control. The disciplining process should give space for children to be intellectually and emotionally engaged. Every day shouting, screaming, or spanking can only produce negativity in the children which force them to be resentful. Better results can be expected when parents deliberately involve children in the disciplining process, as empirical studies indicate. This requires the parents to be good listeners to their children and respond empathetically to tough and difficult situations.
Defective Emotional Process
The emotional development (EQ) of children is directly impacted by the ‘emotional environment’ at home. Positive and affirming environment nurtures positive emotional traits while negative and devaluing environment creates negative emotional traits. On many occasions I heard parents saying: ‘We are working hard to give the best to our children.’ They talk more in terms of materials needs which are important. The best apartment, topmost school and college, the best food, and sufficient pocket money take care of only 50% of their intellectual and emotional development. The remaining 50% of their growth depends on positively affirming and validating family environment. If the parents do not facilitate a positive and affirming environment it is extremely difficult for the children to be emotionally connected and nurturing. There are parents physically present but emotionally unavailable which is a serious defect in the parenting process. Most part of the emotional maturity in children is directly impacted by parental interactions and a nurturing emotional environment.
Absence of Parents in Indian Families
The Indian families experienced the absence of one or both parents in direct parenting in many ways: the absent father due to his employment in another State or Country; the absent mother who is in another country; the absent father and mother due to employment but kids cared by other extended family members; children sent to boarding homes due to non-availability of parents; and single parent families due to divorce or death of the spouse. Does this absence affect the growth process of the children and adolescents? Studies have indicated that the intellectual and emotional development of the children are better facilitated when both parents are physically present and emotionally engaged. Children and teenagers do long for support and care from both parents. When persons in mental and emotional distress say, ‘my father was never there during my childhood’ or ‘my mother was never there for me’ is a direct hint how much they missed from the absent parent.
Dual Career Families
Another major concern is with regard to the dual career families where the care for the children becomes a major concern. Some of these families may have extended family members living with them which reduce the burden. Others may have to look for full time maid or professional care centres where children are forced to spend long hours. If career and money get priority it would have negative impact on parenting practices. Most often parents argue about who would give up the job for giving full time parenting. Some mothers decide to take a break from work knowing that it would have a negative impact on their career. In a few families one may also notice homemaker husbands with parenting tasks. The emotional distress the parents and the children experience in dual career families must be addressed by all caring agencies, including the church.
Lack of Tolerance and the Culture of Blame:
The contemporary society encourages the notion of ‘perfection.’ One is expected to be perfect everywhere: home, school, playground, relationships, and even in religious life. This would mean expectations are quite high at all levels. When these expectations are not fulfilled there is a strong tendency for undue criticism and emotional rejection. The younger generation (and the older ones too) are direct and harsh when their expectations are not fulfilled. People do not hesitate to say after one year of marriage: “she is not wife material or he is not husband material.” Parents express their unhappiness to children and teenagers indicating no tolerance. They compare them with other children who are quite different in their intellectual and emotional process. This lack of tolerance results in blaming each other for their failures. It is often found that children react and blame parents for their failures. There is no space for improvement and growth through appreciation and affirmation. When the child comes with 80% marks, the mother asks, “Who is first in the class.” The parents need to consciously appreciate and affirm children for their major and minor achievements.
Externally caused threats and humiliation
The events and experiences outside the home also deeply impact the mental and emotional growth of children. There are affirming and fulfilling experiences in the schools, church, and neighborhood. There are also negating and emotionally disturbing experiences which parents must be well aware of so that they can be addressed in due time.
A 14 year old boy committed suicide by jumping from the terrace of his apartment in Bangalore, a month ago. This incident shocked most people known to him. His parents and family cannot believe this boy would take such an extreme step. The school teachers say that he was a good student and behaved well in the class. The preliminary police investigation indicates that he was bullied by a senior student which caused him to end his life. Ragging exists in many forms in the middle and high schools.
Children experience discriminations at different levels. Many a times they undergo exploitation that they do not talk about. There are wide ranging practices with regard to discrimination and exploitation. Non-inclusion in the group to forcefully taking pocket money are common among the school kids. Girls are boys are physically and sexually abused by known and unknown people.
These kinds of incidents are quite common among the teenagers which are an indication that in spite of a safe environment at home their world could be deeply disturbed by external agencies. Their experiences outside the home could be threatening to their intellectual and emotional wellbeing. The family, school, and the church should be well aware of such possible external threats which could harm the children physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.
Resistance, Arrogance, and Aggression
One of the major crisis situations in family experience is the resistance, arrogance, and aggressions from the children and teenagers. Most parents feel helpless in dealing with these tough experiences. A mother is constantly worried and anxious about her 19 year old college drop-out son. He has been aggressive and violent towards family members when his demands are not fulfilled. As a single mother she did everything possible to manage him but she realizes that she needs external help. She has not slept peacefully for a while due to his unpredictable aggressive behavior. She has explored various options, including calling the police when he is violent and hits family members and breaks things in the house. What strategies and techniques required for dealing with tough children is an important area for parental education.
Technology and decreasing Personal Space
The modern technology and its communication system brought drastic changes in relationships and communication patterns. The personal space has drastically reduced. Communication between spouses and between parents and children are through whatsup, chat, email, face book, and other social media though they are physically present in the same house. Personal interactions are painfully less and less. The less time and energy for each other is a dangerous signal that quality of family experience is on the decline and need to be addressed with maturity, compassion, and affection.
Spiritual Crisis in Families Today
In many families there is a big gap between religious life and spiritual process. This is true with all religious traditions and denominations. Religiosity can enhance spirituality which is a quality of life that reflects wisdom, discernment and maturity at all levels. There are instances of persons with ‘perfect religiosity’ while they fail in the test for maturity. When a family member goes through a tough time an empathic and consoling approach is the sign of spirituality. Many a times we fail to connect our religiosity and spirituality. This gap in spirituality deeply impacts the thought process, emotional inclinations, and spirituality of the children and teenagers.
Parenting is a God-given opportunity for engaging as co-creators with God. Parenting is a social and religious responsibility and one must accept it with utmost care and commitment. Parenting is a process by which parents and children grow together as people (children) of God. It is a context where parents and children mutual learn and enrich each other. The parenting experience and family life can be fulfilling when there is openness, warmth, affection, mutual care, verbal and non-verbal affirmation and validation, spiritual formation, and physically and emotionally non-threatening environment.