Raising Responsive and Responsible Children (page 2)

By — NYU Child Study Center
Updated on Jul 9, 2010

The Challenge of the Use of Leisure

Maintaining a healthy level of discipline over our children's actions also means setting good standards for how they use their time in and out of school. According to the Horatio Alger Association, the number of teens participating in school-related activity outside the classroom fell from 82% in 1998 to 77% in 1999. Children have an astonishing amount of free time that can be used to make constructive contributions to others, including to their family, through chores and to society through work or volunteerism. They can also learn new skills and foster their talents. However, if their efforts are balanced with some leisure time, they are setting the stage for a balanced, fulfilling adult life. If time is squandered, skills and talents often atrophy. When adolescents have not learned to use time constructively, they often seek cheap thrills through risky actions.

The Challenge of Adolescence

Adolescents seem to feel the pressure of adult responsibilities and dilemmas at ever-earlier ages. Perhaps as a result of less contact between children and parents, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of problems during adolescence. Although fluctuations indicate a downward trend, in comparison to the 60s and 70s, the 90s has been a period of increased teenage pregnancy, drug and alcohol use, death by homicide and suicide, non-lethal violence, and sexual activity without attached meaningful relationships. As teens rush to grow up, either out of necessity to overcome unfortunate life circumstances, or as a way to get ahead, risks and benefits ensue.

Meeting the Challenge

As we are aware of the challenges, so are we aware of what parents can do to meet these challenges. Based on formal research and the clinical experience of professionals, a consensus is a building on the steps parents can take to raise healthy, responsive and responsible children. A place to start is in understanding what's involved in finding the appropriate parental middle ground between certain extremes. A useful way to view your task as a parent is to learn it is a balancing act.

Balancing Affection and Control

The children of parents who are able to balance an affectionate relationship with a high level of parental control have a better psychological outcome. The combination of affection in the form of love, warmth, time, and respect accompanied by a high level of parental control, in the form of limit-setting, results in children who are more self-respecting, put more effort into their goals, and experience less distress when they are confronted with problems. The children of parents who show only part of the balance - affection without control or control without affection - often have difficulties in social situations and are prone to poor achievement and effort. In the case of too much control, children learn to suppress their actions and have low self-esteem.

Balancing Child Time and Parent Time

Infants and toddlers need constant time and affection in order to thrive. As children grow, these needs become less obvious. However, research shows that even through late adolescence, young people benefit from signs of affection and time with their parents. Adolescents who have regular contact with their parents in pleasant circumstances are much less involved in high-risk actions and are more successful academically. Contacts don't have to be elaborate in order to foster mutual respect and affection. Simply talking, particularly about the child's interests, playing games or enjoying entertainment together builds relationships. Beware, however, of becoming so child-focused that you lose time to recharge yourself. Parents who do not take care of at least some of their own needs may come to resent their children. And unknowingly, parents who bow to every whim teach their children to take others for granted, or worse, feel entitled to special treatment. Taking care of your own needs teaches self-respect.

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