A large number of teenagers today feel that parents have abdicated their duties of wielding authority and assuming responsibility for the direction of their children’s lives. Some parents refuse to do so and others are unable to exercise their rights. As a result, there is growing rebellion against parents. In some countries, the Courts flout parental authority. Parents are punished for disciplining their children. ‘Child Rights’ are paramount and parents must fall in line or be punished by the Courts.
The philosophy of Humanism claims that it is alright for children to exercise independence from restraints and to rebel against parents.
But the authority vested in parents comes from God with the diktat “Train up your child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not turn away from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
Children are our heritage and whether married, separated or divorced, we still have the responsibility of their proper upbringing. However as Socrates said, “There is only one profession that is untutored and untrained – Parenting.” Parenting is our privilege and responsibility and we learn from our own experience and from the wisdom of those who have gone before.
Parental authority involves:-
• Leadership to enable the child to grow into a well balanced, affectionate, warm person with a positive attitude to life. What is taught in childhood is internalized and contributes to his character and personality. He must be able to differentiate between right and wrong.
• Nurturing with love. A child who is confident and secure in the love of his parents is more likely to accept rules and restraints. Parents must spend quality time with children, express love for them, compliment them on their positive points and lavish praise for good behaviour.
• Discipline will be effective after proper instructions and role modeling. Children are given rules to live by for their own good. Up till the age of 7-8 years, it is easy to impose discipline. But as they grow older they show resistance and begin to challenge authority with questions of ‘why’ and ‘what for.’ They come up with ready excuses for not doing what they are supposed to do. This should not be considered disrespect for parents. It is a part of growing up. Their questions should be answered sensibly without flying into a rage. However, children should not be allowed to intimidate their parents or subject them to emotional blackmail.
• Communication with the child should be meaningful and effective. Parents must neither be too strict or too indulgent. Over-protection will stifle spontaneity. The child will expect his parents to solve his problems. It is important to listen and respond to his needs.
Every child needs the security of authority and should learn to respect it. Husband and wife should agree on the way they exercise authority. They cannot be at loggerheads with each other. Obedience to both father and mother and their unified authority should be expected of every child.
Patterns of parenting differ according to one’s background, education, social status and culture. Four broad groups can be identified.
1. Dictatorship when a parent’s word is law. Rules must be followed without argument. There is no scope for reasoning. Punishment follows even a minor misdemeanor.
2. Authoritative: Children are expected to follow rules but a child’s point of view is considered. Parents are persuasive and explain reasons why rules have to be followed. They also point out the consequences of non-compliance. Baumrind says authoritative parents “monitor and impart clear standards for their children’s conduct. They are assertive but not intrusive or restrictive. Their methods are supportive. They want their children to be socially responsible and self regulated as well as cooperative.”
3. Permissive parents are grossly overindulgent and never discipline their children. They make few demands on them and have no high expectations. They treat their children as friends.
4. Indifferent parents are generally detached and pay no heed even to the basic needs of their children. They neither communicate meaningfully nor discipline them. They may be physically present but emotionally absent.
The most successful parents are those who exercise authority with love and understanding. The child should know that there are rules to be followed both at home and in society. Obedience to parents, respect for others, fear of God and the importance of living a godly life must be taught. Such a child will grow into a happy, loving, well adjusted individual, able to withstand what is wrong and hold his own in society. He will always be aware of the perils of non-compliance to rules.
A dictatorial parent may have submissive children. But they may harbour resentment and grow bitter and cynical. They may lack social skills, be indecisive and timid or may turn into autocratic bullies in adult life.
Parents should not equate permissiveness to love. Pampering a child will not build character. He will lack initiative and blame others for his failures.
Indifferent parents will have equally indifferent children. They will be selfish, uncaring and lacking in social graces, self control and competence.
Parental authority is God-given and must be shared equally by both parents. Children need proper guidance and a set of moral values to live by, in a world that is becoming more lawless and consumer oriented. “Children need some structure of authority,” said Dr. Spock. They need a framework of ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts.’ A family is by no means a democracy and parents and children are not equal. The most successful parents are those who exercise authority with love and understanding.