Wednesday 24 April 2019

Why tough love might be just the tonic for touchy teens

New research has found that micro-managing teenagers can have a damaging impact on their relationships in adolescence and early adulthood. Picture posed. Thinkstock Images
New research has found that micro-managing teenagers can have a damaging impact on their relationships in adolescence and early adulthood. Picture posed. Thinkstock Images
Sinead Moriarty

Sinead Moriarty

Before having children you could walk down a street without a care in the world. After having children you see danger lurking in every corner.

What if a drunk driver swerves and kills your child, or a bolt of lightening strikes them on the head. What if a tree falls on top of them, a crazy man jumps out from behind a hedge and stabs them or they fall down a large pot hole never to be seen again.

Having children makes parents see the world as a place full of peril. This is why so many parents are over-protective and mollycoddle their kids. But a new study tells us that this is the wrong approach.

New research has found that micro-managing teenagers can have a damaging impact on their relationships in adolescence and early adulthood.

The University of Virginia study in Child Development followed nearly 200 youngsters aged 13 to 21. The results showed that teenagers whose parents kept tight control over them struggled to form relationships and were more likely to bow to peer pressure.

Lead researcher Barbara Oudekerk said: "Without opportunities to practise self-directed, independent decision-making, teens might give in to their friends' and partners' decisions."

It seems obvious - teenagers who learn how to express independence and closeness with friends and partners during adolescence will carry these skills forward into adult relationships. Those who do not, will have problems later on.

But the majority of modern parents are over-protective.

We can't help ourselves. We drive our kids to school, we call them incessantly on their phones, we monitor their social lives, friends and 'free time'. While all parents have the best of intentions, micro-managing our children's lives can end up causing just as much trouble as a laissez-faire attitude.

Not allowing children to experience life and make mistakes means they will go forth with a naive view of the world. They will also miss out on developing the 'street-wise' edge that all children need.

That edge is a vital tool when trying to negotiate the minefield of the school yard and the world beyond. Overprotected teenagers are risk-averse. They have difficulty making decisions and managing problems. They fall apart when faced with any kind of hurdles or adversity.

Teachers often complain about children in their classes who are clearly mollycoddled at home. They say that while these children may be extremely intelligent and academically bright, they are often years behind in social and emotional maturity.

Teenagers who have been cosseted aren't able to join in independent social activities and therefore miss out on life experiences because their parents insist on managing their every move. Teachers warn that overprotected children are often the target of bullies because of their innocence and lack of street-smarts.

On the other hand, it is understandable that parents worry about the teenage years and strive to keep their children out of trouble and away from bad influences.

All parents fear the harmful consequences of peer pressure in adolescence.

Healthy teens will want to spread their wings and try things on their own. Although it's hard, we have to let go to a certain extent.

Obviously, it's important to help them navigate the murky waters of adolescence, but by clipping their wings we are not helping them to become the adults they need to be.

It is the happy medium that is difficult to achieve. If we do overprotect our kids, when they leave school they won't be able to survive in the big bad world.

Overprotected children often fail in the workplace because they don't possess the skills necessary to survive and thrive in a business environment.

They lack drive and initiative and fall apart when faced with negative feedback or an angry boss. These young adults are equally ill-equipped to manage their personal lives. They are often very passive and lack good social skills.

They therefore tend to get drawn into relationships with partners who are dominant and make all the decisions for them, just like their parents used to do.

So it seems that by overindulging our teenagers, we are damaging them and sending them out into the world ill-equipped for what awaits them. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my parents for giving my siblings and I the 'miracle cure' of a glass of boiled red lemonade whenever we fell over, had a bad day or injured ourselves.

Their no-nonsense approach allowed us to step forth into the big bad world, well-equipped for the knocks and disappointments that make up part of everyday life.

Irish Independent

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