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Thursday, December 31, 2015
At some point in the life of a parent, he or she will (hopefully) have a conversation about sex with his or her child. This is frequently a terrifying experience for a parent as parents believe that this conversation will dictate whether the child will have a healthy sex life or not. Effective communication WITH (as opposed to ‘at’) children about sex and other things does have a strong influence on how functional those dimensions are in a child’s life. This blog, however, is not about that initial conversation. This is about the little things that come up in everyday life where a parent has to set boundaries because the children are not old enough for one thing or another.
In many households the discussion about which activities, words, and movies are appropriate or inappropriate has happened already or is happening right now. Often we as parents portray this as, “those are bad things (or not good for you) that you can’t do until you’re older”.
A child once asked me why his parents were allowed to watch movies with violence and cursing but he was not. It’s an awesome question and here is why: We work so hard at making sure our children are living within the boundaries that have been established in their lives. Those boundaries might be set by us, their parents, by their school, or by other authorities in their lives. Then all of a sudden when our child reaches some point where we feel like we’ve lost control then he is allowed to do all these sorts of things that we have told her are bad. I suggest that the message we are sending is that you have to behave, work hard, have morals, refrain from bad things, etc. until you are 18 or so and then it’s a free for all of debauchery with no self-control necessary. In other words, “be good until you’re 18 then you can be as bad as the devil.”
I have found in my work that people are afraid to impose their own boundaries without backing them up with some external source. If you don’t know what I’m talking about just call customer service of your least favorite airline and they will say, “I’m sorry but our system does not allow us to do anything that would make your life even marginally easier.” Instead of just saying, “I don’t want to help you, even though I could, I’m just not going to.”
In my experience parents do this as well. In spite of all of the self-help books and amazing blogs by Ari Hoffman that you have read, there are extremely few hard and fast rules to parenting or life at all. Parents can establish boundaries based on what they think they are supposed to do or they can take a step back and think about it. Have you ever asked yourself why you don’t allow your child to swear? Or why you don’t allow your child to watch violent movies? Or why you would make your child cover her eyes during a semi-erotic scene that seems to fill PG-13 movies nowadays?
Instead of just saying what you remember your parents saying, think about it. Why make these boundaries? Is it possible that a lot of these things are not bad? Maybe they’re even good, but maybe they’re not good for kids? Maybe your kids who still lack life experience, are still learning good decision making skills, are working on being a little less impulsive, are not ready for the stuff that we as adults allow ourselves to enjoy. These things are not bad. They’re good. They just might not be good for everyone. Just like I can very safely sip a shot of Laphroiag but should be careful about playing video games because if I owned a video game system my family would never see me again, so too someone else can buy an Xbox but doesn’t drink because he knows that one shot might quickly lead to an unhealthy amount.
Good decisions are made, not because everyone else made the same one and so should I. No, good decisions are made with consideration and attention.
So I call out to you, my fellow parents, you will contribute to your children's dysfunctions and you will contribute to their most beautiful qualities. Make your parenting decisions with intention and exercise them with confidence. There is no need to say that “smoking weed on New Years Eve is bad and so I’m allowed to and you’re not because you’re a child.” Rather, “when you are older and have more wisdom and experience then you can make your own decisions too, and for now I make decisions for you and I want you to have more life experience and wisdom before you get baked.”
If you or someone you know might benefit from working with me on increasing your confidence and efficacy as a parent, you can contact me by phone at 303-803-4832 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I look forward to hearing from you and happy new year.
Ari Hoffman MA, LPC