Saturday 21 April 2018

Dr Ciara Kelly: 'Has Ireland's overly indulgent, softly, softly parenting approach left our kids short-changed?'

Ciara Kelly with her teenage children Ella, 14, and Oisin, 15, on Greystones beach. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Ciara Kelly with her teenage children Ella, 14, and Oisin, 15, on Greystones beach. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Dr Ciara Kelly
Generation snowflake: Maybe the young need to be more resilient

Parenting - it's a social experiment really isn't it? Treat your kids in one way and they will turn out like this, treat them in another and they will turn out like that. And we don't really know how well we've done - until our children become grown, independent adults.

I do sometimes wonder though, do parents - particularly my generation of parents - ever think about the outcome of their actions when they're parenting? Do they ever think about how they want their kids to turn out when they grow up?

Or are they just hoping for the best? Are they parenting by instinct or perhaps even to compensate for whatever was lacking in how they were parented themselves - when we were brought up by a tougher breed of parent who practised benign neglect and threatened the wooden spoon when we misbehaved? Many of us who came from that upbringing vowed to do better with our own children, determined that we'd be kinder, more attentive, less disciplinarian and more friendly when it came to our own children's upbringing.

But I think we can only say our parents got it wrong, if we turned out badly. If we've turned out OK - then our parents may have got it right. Because I have to say as I get older and see the emerging new generation of teens and young adults I wonder have we as parents got it a bit wrong ourselves? Is more permissive parenting really the right approach?

Oh I think most young people I know are lovely, to be fair. I've a real soft spot for teens with their great capacity for enthusiasm and humour and hope. But increasingly it seems to me our adolescents and young adults are struggling to cope with relatively simple life challenges and many of them are suffering with anxiety often related to minor issues or situations.

And I'm inclined to wonder has it something to do with us? Has an overly indulgent, softly, softly approach left our kids short-changed in terms of resilience and grit? Would giving them small challenges to overcome when they were younger maybe have helped? Would a little bit more responsibility and, yes, discipline maybe have been better for them in the long run?

I think for many parents when smacking fell out of favour - that meant all discipline went with it. And I don't think it's good for kids, who actually need boundaries, structure and routine.

We've become parents who treat our kids like they're less able than they actually are. Infantilising them often into adolescence and early adulthood. Treating them like they need to be protected from all sorts of often non-existent threats - so they can't even walk to school on their own. And acting like they're barely able to fill their own schoolbags, at an age where in other parts of the world they're practically holding down a job and raising their siblings. But also behaving like we aren't actually in charge of them. Like we're peers not parents. And if we aren't in charge - our kids have got to be left wondering - who is?

Treating kids like they're not able - for what they clearly are able for - leaves them feeling unequal to the task of life. So we now have a situation where 30pc of college students are dropping out in the first year, as the fairly un-taxing challenge of third level education proves too much for them.

And you've got to ask why are we doing this? Why are we babying our children if it's not good for them? Is it more that the parents of the snowflake generation need to be needed? Or perhaps our need to soothe our own inner child that never felt quite indulged enough?

Ciara Kelly
Ciara Kelly

I sometimes look at my older children and think - here's one I prepared earlier. And luckily they seem to be doing OK. I suppose the good thing is, most kids do turn out all right. But lots and lots of our young people are really struggling - and with fairly minor stuff.

And I think just hoping our kids will turn out decent, well rounded, functional members of society without giving them the tools to do that, isn't really good enough. Life is tough. Pretending it isn't doesn't really do our kids any favours.


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