We live in a virtual reality of eMails, iPods, and xBoxes where our children are inundated with a privatized immediacy powered by a technological world of boundless information, borderless communities, and a bounty of unsupervised amusement. In order for parents to remain sane and savvy, post-modern parenting requires some good, old-fashioned values. Just as the 3R’s of education used to refer to reading, writing, and arithmetic, I would like to present the 3 r’s of parenting or in popular vernacular- rPARENTING.
Our babies, from the day on which they are born, whether it be in Milwaukee, New Orleans, or Kabul, begin to experience an observed reality. Clearly, every community of children grows up with different life experiences and these experiences help shape our children’s character. One critical and essential role of the parent in the community is to help their children interpret the reality they grow up in.
At every developmental stage children are seeking understanding of how the world works and parents are the interpreters. We provide an ethical guideline of do’s and don’ts, yeses and nos, rights from wrongs in order to help our children learn the values we cherish. We are constantly teaching our children how their behavior defines them as individuals and how their actions impact the world around them. Then, through the progressive developmental stages of language, curiosity and mastery, intelligence and reason, and socialization, children create their own sense of the world.
Psychologist David Elkind, author of The Hurried Child and Miseducation, called this the child’s perceived reality. Elkind believed children between the ages of six and eight, with their concrete understanding of the world, develop a perception of the world that is black and white, yet, magical. This perceived reality becomes the basis for a life-long inner dialogue of how the child interprets the world. Parents help shape the child’s perceived reality through role modeling, explaining behavior, and discipline. On one level, parents cannot control the observed reality occurring in culture; yet, on another level, how we help our children understand the world we live in is under parental control and is a critical hallmark of becoming and being a good parent.
As we facilitate our children’s understanding of the world, we must teach them about a humane world, one that engenders respect. This becomes a difficult task in the face of war, poverty, hunger, and pollution. Yet, once again, as demonstrated throughout human civilization, no matter how deplorable the global or local circumstances, individual people can make a difference. Parents must make a positive difference! Therefore, a critical tool in teaching our children about a humane reality is to parent with respect.
According to the Webster dictionary, respect has several meanings, and I would like to present two. The common meaning of respect is when an individual exhibits a positive regard, honor and courtesy toward another individual, deference is demonstrated. A second definition is contextual, when using the phrase with respect to, meaning in relation to another. When you define respect as relational, it underscores the ‘between-ness’ of respect. Respect occurs between people. It is in that ‘between-ness’ or in that relational space where it can be measured and understood. A parent-child relationship built on mutual respect positively nurtures the child’s sense of self.
How do we define respect and how do we objectify or quantify it so that we give our children a clear message? I would venture to say that a majority of parent-child conflicts ultimately become a battle about respect or, at least what parents perceive as the child’s disrespect. For example, when a child doesn’t put his toys away or a teenager is late for curfew, an argument ensues that leads to a yelling match about following family rules and respecting parental authority. I believe, how a parent treats the misbehavior becomes the template for teaching mutual respect. We cannot allow the child’s or teenager’s negative reaction during an escalated argument over misbehavior to become the measuring stick of how we evaluate the child’s respect in the family system. It is the parent’s positive regard toward the child during a family battle that teaches mutual respect. It is the parent’s sense of honor and courtesy reflected in the parent-child relationship, or as mentioned above, the ‘between-ness’ that fosters mutual respect, and ultimately models self-respect.
Responsibility, simply put, is response-ability or the ability to respond. It is the life space between the parent and the child where respect for reality occurs, and in that ‘between-ness’, responsibility is manifested. An essential role in parenting is teaching your child to take on responsibilities so they can satisfactorily master the developmental tasks they face. Ultimately, a parent hopes a child will learn to take responsibility for himself and in doing so learns to accept his own emotions, thoughts, and actions as his own and not to blame them on others.
Responsibility comes from within. It is an internal set of rules that you act on. It is one thing to say or feel you are responsible; it is another thing to be responsible. It is the parent’s responsibility to teach ownership of responsibility to their children. Responsibility requires inner discipline. Parents set limits, develop structures, and devise programs in order to teach their children the value of being responsible. The children who succeed naturally at fulfilling their responsibilities are rewarded with warmth and attention. In a sense, their responsibility taking is respected and greatly valued by parents and teachers alike. On the other hand, too many children are not naturals at taking on responsibility. These children become the “difficult” ones, which may or may not be true, because their mastery of responsibility-taking often falls short of expectations. Parents and teachers, then respond with frustration and disappointment. Unfortunately, our negative reactions fill the child with despair. Every parent must find a path where his child can feel the ability to respond successfully. It is our responsibility to create the life space where our children feel the value of being responsible.
Stay Connected with rPARENTING
Technology has forever changed our lives, much like the agricultural and industrial revolutions that preceded it. Our children will, for the rest of their lives, be connected to this virtual reality provided to us by technology.
The bottom line for today’s parents is that we, also, must stay connected – to our children. As their virtual reality expands, it is our job to make our reality, our family’s world, our ‘between-ness’, our life space with our children alive and real. As parents, we know respect blossoms into kindness and thoughtfulness. Respect brings value to the mutual relationship. We need to own and take responsibility for what we know and what we do and help find pathways for our children to become responsible individuals.