The Problem with Parenting: And What To Do About It

“I thought having kids would be easier. I thought we’d have kids who would grow up, make friends, go to school, fall in love, get married and live their lives…you know? I thought they’d be happy. But it didn’t turn out that way.” And so goes the lament of every parent who raised children that didn’t turn out the way they thought they would.

Whether their child is on drugs, flunked out of school, can’t keep a job, engages in high-risk, scary behaviors, tells the parent they hate them, takes money from mom and dad but seems to exhibit little personal responsibility, is disconnected from the family or just doesn’t seem to be growing up and leading their own life, parents today are more flustered by raising children than ever before.

To add to the dismal climate of parenting these days, smart phones have changed the rules of family with kids deep diving into social media and online connections (and away from the family) for hours every day. In fact, by age 10 most kids now have smart phones, which is a sharp departure from kids of just 10 years ago who were still (mostly) going outside to play and had to meet friends at school or the movies if they wanted to hang out in a group. Now, kids sit in their bedrooms and chat with friends (and strangers) on Internet video games, freely post self-made videos to Youtube or chat with multiple people face to face on apps like House Party which have no (I repeat NO) way for parents to monitor what goes on.

It’s no wonder I get so many calls from parents who are often angry, in tears and bewildered by raising their kids. I often hear of children wanting money, phones and cars from their parents but do not want parental advice, wisdom, time or connection. When asked how they are making decisions about life, love, sex and their future, today’s teen and young adult would answer that: Reddit, Google, Youtube and other online communities are their guiding light.

Parents are disgruntled and disheartened with trying to parent this generation of kids who (for all intents and purposes) seem to be raising themselves.

Let’s start to unpack this complex problem by looking at beliefs about family and parenting that have changed since we were kids. I call these “Faulty Beliefs of Parenting” and I have selected the top four beliefs I hear in my office and offer concrete evidence as to why it is faulty, why it’s getting in the way of your family and what to do to correct it. This blogpost will address faulty belief #1 while future blogposts will cover the next three.

Faulty Beliefs That Cause Problems in Families

1) The belief that life, love and family are all transactional – “I have done this for you, so you should do that for me”

2) The belief that “happiness” is a good goal for your child.

3) If there are problems with a child in a family then it’s the child who needs to be fixed

4) If I raise my kids how I was raised they will come out OK

Myth 1: Life, love and family are all transactional (I have done “this” for you so you must do “that” for me)

The reason this is a faulty belief is because the golden age of national trust and goodwill (that we were raised in) is gone.  The last 20 years (when our kids were growing up) has seen the erosion of the Big Five pillars of our society (Education, economics, politics, religion and national safety) the Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have done unto you) no longer rules. When most parents today were growing up (1970’s – 1980’s) there was a cohesion in our culture which was reflected by:

  • Trust in our elected officials
  • Strong adherence to a conservative system of faith
  • Belief in the “The American Dream” which reflected core American values of achievement and goodwill
  • Confidence in a strong American economy
  • Pride in America as a nation and superpower
  • Trust and reliance on our neighbors and safety within neighborhoods
  • Kids flocked to college and expected to graduate with little to no debt
  • Most kids regarded their parents as trustworthy and schools as safe
  • National safety was rarely a concern

Today, the picture of our country and what we have handed to our children is vastly different. In fact, with today’s youth it is common to:

  • Adapt Global Values which have now replaced American Values
  • Have a strong awareness of mass violence
  • Make fun of our top elected leaders
  • Remain mostly skeptical about religion and faith
  • Interact in a “digital” neighborhood more than a physical one
  • Skip college altogether and open your own Internet business or startup
  • Rely mostly on peer groups for support and guidance
  • Avoid big advertising in favor of peer-to peer opinion
  • Leave a job if it doesn’t make you happy
  • Be trolled online and bullied by strangers
  • See human behavior sanctioned through social media sites like Reddit and Twitter
  • Save the globe and its people through environmental and people-focused, crowdfunded actions, which are a top-priority
  • Live within families who pursued the American Dream and ended up divorced
  • Spend 10+ hours in front of a screen every day
  • See gender and all of life on a spectrum, open for interpretation

Quite simply, With today’s youth,

  • Tolerance is the new religion
  • Green is the new black
  • School is the new war zone
  • Podcast is the new radio
  • Computers are the new TV’s
  • Technology is the new family
  • Older people (read: parents, presidents, priests) are the new villains

Our kids are political activists and leaders in technology. They re-buff corporate America in favor of grassroots, farm to table micro-businesses and they have turned communication and relationships on their head.

Our children have inherited a world where the pillars of our society (church, politics, economics, personal safety and education) have been toppled by priests who molest, lenders who lie, families that fold, peers who murder and elections that are rigged. Is it any wonder they are so checked out from us? So, when we say things like, “I have done all of this for my kids so why don’t they respect and obey me?” The answer is: What exactly have we done that they should respect?

As parents, we are now co-facilitators of culture with our children and frankly, at their mercy when it comes to technology. Todays’ child needs a more effective parent who can keep pace with their innovation and earn their trust. We are parenting a generation of skeptics who are being forced to re-create society in the wake of our demolition of it. Certainly, a different approach than just “I’m the parent and I said so, that’s why” is needed with today’s kids.

So, the first thing I recommend is that parents utilize the DBT STOP skill  (Stop, Take a step back, Observe, Proceed Mindfully) and STOP trying to get kids off of phones and computers and instead, join them in their digital world. Our kids are now digital natives and the Internet is the new normal. Rather than fight against the screens, learn to lean in to what they’re doing and who they’re doing it with. It’s alright to have some limits with the places they go and how much time they spend but you must also understand why they are so drawn to the web – for the same reason we all are: A desire for connection. More next time on this important topic.

Want to help your teen or young adult launch their lives in this new era? Then this series of blogposts might be for you. Next time we will look at Faulty Parenting Belief #2: “I just want my child to be happy.”

Moms and Dads, DBT Center of Orange County offers family therapy which can assist you to navigate the hurdles facing the modern family. Please call 949-480-7767 or click here for more information.

by Cindy Finch, LCSW

Clinical & Family Therapist at DBT Center of Orange County