Parent-Child Relationships: The No-Lose Model
While the overall family theme for the year is “Families Walk the Talk” and for May it was “Parents Walk the Talk”, for June it’s the other parts of the Micah slogan, which is Marfam’s 2017 sub-theme: “Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.”
“Youth need love and justice” somehow puts youth on the receiving end, entitled to receiving both love and justice from their parents or parenting figures.
I have come to realise that there are a number of parenting resources available that aim to promote parenting skills. If those skills are properly implemented, then the youth will receive love and justice and not neglect, abuse or poor discipline, or be overly indulged and spoilt.
The current spate of violence against children and women, as well as substance abuse, does often affect the youth — though small children and older women and men also suffer.
I have been able to do some homework on the subject of parent-child relationships before and since attending a parenting conference last month (which was reported on in The Southern Cross).
Its theme dealt with strengthening families through strengthening parenting skills. It is clear to me, however, that working with parents alone or with youth alone — as youth programmes may tend to do — might not address the issue of positive and effective family communication well enough.
We are dealing with a two-way street where both sides have a role to play. In fact, both sides know only too well that it is not an easy matter to communicate across the generation gap with different and changing expectations, values and experiences.
Already in 1975, Dr Thomas Gordon in developing Parenting Effectiveness Training (PET) identified that the lives and times of families have changed. How an older generation was “parented” has changed dramatically, away from a much more authoritarian approach of parental control to greater tolerance and acceptance and better listening skills.
We can hardly imagine that the idea of “children should be seen and not heard” was once acceptable. That slogan has cleverly been adapted by some wise person to “children should be seen and not hurt”.
The change in approach must be seen as positive but also as having created some of the difficulties in today’s parent-child relationships. We haven’t all adopted the approach, not only of a win-win model, but of a no-lose model. This is where communication is key: a child is motivated to develop thinking skills and contribute as best it can to resolving conflict situations.
Such a proposed model can work in a regular parent-child situation. But who are the people “parenting” our children (an issue explored more fully in the latest Family Matters magazine).
There may be other biological relatives, or friends, or teachers and mentors. These may also lead to experiences of love and justice, but not necessarily so.
More concerning is that the youth are extremely mobile, out and about, or at home in another world of social media. They may look for the love and justice they need from outside sources, but are highly vulnerable and open to abuse by predators out to harm them, even trying to buy their love.
Violence from their own peers in the form of bullying is common too. Young people are often much more savvy than their elders knowing where the dangers lie, but also more keen to take risks.
There is no doubt that youth are in need of love and justice. There is no doubt that those are best found in their immediate environment which should be secure and safe.
Whatever the case, the onus is on parents to develop enough empathy to be available when they are needed. The onus too is on the youth to be co-accountable and not to sabotage their own futures by undermining the help that is available.
Positive and meaningful family communication is an important key. If that key is not in the door, then another key or another entry point should be found.
Marfam’s Family Faith Focus daily reflections can be used as a tool to open the door and to begin to build family communication (see www.marfam.org.za).