Parents raising kids, remember, life happens

January 07, 2003|By SUSAN REIMER

Yet another study confirms that involved parents - parents who supervise their children's activities and are familiar with their friends and their school progress - are more likely to prevent their children from dangerous choices. This time, it is smoking during adolescence.

The recent report from the National Institute of Child and Human Development can be added to similar findings in other studies: The children of involved parents are less likely to engage in drugs, drinking or unprotected sex.

In the same week, a clinical psychologist in Washington publishes an essay lamenting the number of parents she treats who are still propping up grown children as old as 40.

And somewhere in the sensible center is British sociologist Frank Furedi, author of Paranoid Parenting: Why Ignoring the Experts May be Best for Your Child.

In it, Furedi argues that the avalanche of expert opinion on child-rearing has left parents afraid to trust their own good sense, and their children without a healthy dose of it themselves.

The experts, he says, have convinced parents that they are not competent to raise their own children; that each developmental stage is, in fact, a problem that can only be solved with expert advice.

The result, Furedi argues, is that we've lost our nerve as parents, and our insecurity is compounded by our fear that our children are not safe from kidnappers, snipers, drunk drivers, sexually transmitted diseases and rampaging peers with guns.

We respond to each news report and each new study with a renewed determination to keep our children closer and, therefore, safer.

The common refrain, "I could not live with myself if something happened to my child," says Furedi, says more about our level of anxiety and our overwrought emotional investment in our children than it does about their vulnerability to the evil in the world

"Today, parenting means supervision and hyper-involvement," Furedi said in a telephone interview from England, where the father of a 7-year-old son teaches at the University of Kent.

"The result is children are not learning to use their own resources to navigate the world, to trust their skills and their good sense and to rely on that good sense."

Parents are operating under a worst-case-scenario imperative, he says. Instead of quarantining our children against danger, we should be asking ourselves what we can do to give them the confidence and resilience to deal with it.

"Such psychological resources ensure their safety far better than the current regime of constant adult supervision," he says. "Anything else is a silly strategy. It is a recipe for morons."

Predictably, the "parenting industry," as Furedi calls it, has responded with howls of protest against his book. Nor is he finding the kind of gratitude from parents one might expect from a group which has been told that it already has the good sense to do the job well.

"In America, a lot of parents say, `Yes, yes. You are right. But you don't know what it is like in our neighborhood.' Or, `In theory you are right, but you don't know what our neighborhood is like.'

"But most parents, even the overprotective ones, are not comfortable with what they are doing."

The irony, of course, is that Furedi is one more expert with yet another set of opinions, telling parents what they are doing wrong.

If we are to heed his advice and trust our own best instincts, we might, indeed, give in to the atmosphere of fearfulness that newspaper headlines engender. We might, indeed, lock our children in a tower and keep them there - until the age of 40 - and until we are convinced it is safe to let them out on their own.

But it only takes a deep breath and a moment of reflection to realize that, ultimately, only our children can protect themselves against the world and bounce back from its hard lessons.

If we want to help them, we have to give them the opportunity to learn that lesson, because it is the most important one.

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