Do Parents Really Matter?

The recent article in Time magazine (May 20, 2013) about the “Me” generation has provoked strong reactions from many perspectives. The essay by Joel Stein characterized those kids born between 1980 and 2000 as a product of a culture that has produced “narcissistic…fame-obsessed…lazy…stunted…” adults with an incredible sense of entitlement, although he also viewed them as “earnest and optimistic.”

This essay has been perceived rather negatively by many parents. Raising kids is tough at so many levels.  We can deal with the sacrifice, compromise, and tensions of raising kids if our actions help determine how our kids turn out.   We always knew that our influence was limited by our children’s genetic predisposition. However, now it seems that societal factors minimize our impact.

Cultural changes feel overwhelming. We warn our kids about the dangers of sexting, and a 22-year-old guy named Evan Spiegel invents Snapchat, a program that allows pictures and texts to be sent and then be permanently erased after several seconds. We just can’t keep up, and are tempted to just tune out and drop out emotionally. We love our kids but there is this uneasy sense that it doesn’t matter what we do.

If our kids’ characters are the result of culture and chemistry, do parents really matter?

Here’s the point where I’d love to cite some scientific study that says that parents still make a difference. I can’t. All I can do is reflect back what I’ve learned from hard-working and decent people who seem to be raising kids who are moral, loving, and productive. Here’s what they have in common.

Confidence. Good parents act like they matter. They don’t ignore the impact of society, but go about raising their kids with a strong belief that our daily interactions, guidance, discipline, and fun times are more important than Facebook, iPhones and texting.

Small steps. Effective parents know that little things can have a big impact. They have dinner together and talk about their day. They listen carefully and try to understand the perplexing world of their kids. They do fun things on the weekends rather than focus on a long list of chores. Perhaps most importantly, they are in loving relationships that serve as powerful role models to their kids about marriage and commitment.

Values. Good parents live what they believe.  They teach their kids about compassion, hard work, and personal responsibility by living a life that truly reflects what they say. These parents are not reluctant to assert that some values are better than others.

My mom used to describe rain as “liquid sunshine.”  I’d tell her that she could pretend all she wanted but she’d still get wet!  I’m not trying to act like my mom and deny the impact of culture but I have to believe that parents still matter.

Dr. Ramey, who is a child psychologist and Vice President at Dayton Children’s Medical Center, can be reached at Rameyg@childrensdayton.org

 

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