Parenting is a challenging job. The physical, emotional, and financial demands seem endless. It feels as if we are always sacrificing what we want for the sake of our kids. Our dreams get delayed and often denied, as we usually put our kids as the highest priority in our lives.
We do this willingly, not only for the satisfaction that comes from raising children, but also from the anticipation that what we do today will echo well into the future. We are the most important influence in how our kids turn out, aren’t we? Children are the message we send to an unknown future, and it’s worth all of the work and frustration to help our children develop into moral, loving, and productive people.
Raising kids gets really tough when you have that nagging feeling that what you do may not really matter all that much. As we learn more about genetics, it appears that so much of how our kids develop is due more to chromosomes and genotype rather than our love and discipline. By the time our kids are preteens, we often feel helpless as we realize we are fighting a battle against cultural influences that we cannot win. Our kids are more influenced by peers, media, and technology rather than by their contact with us.
Don’t get despondent. Recent research by Stephan Collishaw and his colleagues published in the July, 2011 Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology has some good news for parents—we really do matter!
Collishaw’s study assessed whether parenting style had changed from 25 years ago by reviewing assessments completed by English parents and teens. He focused on two dimensions of parenting that appear critical in how kids turn out—parental control and parental involvement. The former refers to all the things we think are important about raising kids, such as setting clear rules, enforcing consequences, and monitoring activities when our kids are away from us. Parental involvement is the enjoyable part of parenting, the extent to which we are actively involved in our kids’ lives in a positive, supportive, and fun way.
Families that scored high on parental control and parental involvement were more likely to have well adjusted teens. Kids are much more likely to turn out well when parents are clear in their expectations, consistent in their consequences, monitor their children’s behaviors, and are engaged in a positive way in their lives. The other interesting result of their study was the finding that in general parental control and involvement have really not substantially changed over the past 20 years, at least in England.
So please continue to check your kids’ homework, put them in time-out, coach their soccer teams, take them to movies, limit their television usage, and drive them to after-school events. We matter.