It's especially easy to fall into this trap when children didn't just "happen" for you (there wasn't "supposed" to be a four year age gap between my children each time) but there is a fine line between supporting, loving and sharing - and suffocation, micro management and spoiling, and I suspect most of us simply don't know where that line is.
Firstly, consumer goods are so much cheaper now than when my generation were children. A new pair of shoes doesn't actually cost much more than thirty years ago. It's too easy to indulge and reward, responding to their pleas and getting caught up in the "it's OK, everyone else is doing it" pattern of self reassurance.
|Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net|
But IS it ok? Or are we artificially raising expectations beyond levels our children can actually cope with? Are we actually removing their aspirations, or forcing them to think bigger, higher, and of ever more unattainable dreams?
Alarmingly, this is not just true at family level. In the past decade or so children have had their status in society elevated to almost pedestal level. At no time since History began has there been such a revolution in their social status, matched only by the rise of the teenager during the 1960s. We have come a very long way from the Victorian belief that children should be "seen and not heard", today adults are instead regularly put down by their own offspring, left feeling they have few rewards or sanctions to effectively promote good behaviour. I know because I'm sometimes one of them!
After the post war years of austerity, a new generation was born who had never known the hardships of their parents. Relative economic affluence and social freedoms precipitated by the foundation of the NHS and the advent of the Pill gave birth to a confident, well-off group who were no longer expect to shoulder the same level of responsibility their parents had. They were in school longer, and rather than taking their place on the employment conveyor belt they were free to indulge themselves in the belief that it was a right not a responsibility. Neither child nor adult the impact of youth culture on the economy and society was profound and far reaching. They were the present and the future, the biggest market for producers to target, buying for want - not need. The concept of the teenager was born and over time the media and industry have targeted an ever younger audience.
My eldest has just written a GCSE History essay on this subject, so I have had the
At this time of year the media is FULL of articles on his to lose weight, gain the perfect body, holidays to book for the summer - but by far the biggest market seems to be targeting our children and their wants. And it's so easy to get caught up in a frenzy of confusion, blurring the boundaries between "want" and "need". We have lost sight of a fundamental truth of humanity - that focussing on ourselves rarely brings happiness. None of this indulgence comes without a price. We have ever-younger children suffering from stress, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, self harming and suffering acute distress. But even attempts by CAMHS to help such children still places the child at the centre with control over their support, it's like expecting a toddler to eat appropriately for their needs!!
This promotion of the rights of children and elevation of their needs above all else has gone too far. Sure, children have a valid and important role in society. They deserve to receive relevant consideration for their needs and I am a very child centred parent. But it needs to be appropriate to their needs - and this is being ignored. Children need boundaries to feel secure, and they need to know that caregivers are loving and consistent - not indulgent and flexible.
We have just gone through the CAF process for H, and participated in a "Team Around the Child" meeting to help support him better in school and at home. It's not a perfect process but has improved considerably over the years. However my fundamental disagreement with it is the premise that the child is not only central to the process - that's vital - but a central participant. Our son, who has only just turned 12 (a week ago) is expected to attend meetings, receive copies of minutes and all correspondence, and encouraged to feel in control of the process.
NO. This is SO wrong.
He is a CHILD and should be respected as one. To protect his innocence, support his needs and facilitate that support he needs to be allowed to BE that child. We are too quick to give our children choices, thus burdening them with the huge responsibility they are ill-equipped to shoulder. Twelve year olds are children, and should not be party to in depth discussions about their difficulties in this way - never mind a twelve year old on the Autism Spectrum who is emotionally several years behind his chronological age.
To be honest this "Child Centred Culture" is going too far. We have given children a voice, but they also need to be allowed to be children. There is something uniquely precious about the lack of responsibility only a child can have. Love, safety and security are paramount, but so are dreams. Adult rights and responsibility aren't always all they are cracked up to be, and childhood is so precious - let's not take it away.