Emma Tanner

A Work in Progress

Worried about the problems our children are facing? Don’t panic!

on March 20, 2013


I have read a lot of articles recently which have the apparent aim of putting the fear of God into parents everywhere. If they are to be believed, our children are in for a terrible time. They are growing up too quickly. They spend all their time in front of a screen of some sort or another. They are inactive and overweight. Once they hit their teenage years (or even before that), they will inevitably be drinking too much, watching porn online, having sex with each other (a lot), and being pressurised into doing things they don’t want to do. They will have no respect for themselves or other people.

Depressed yet?! I was starting to feel somewhat helpless and despondent when reading the latest diatribe on this subject from some journalist or another. That same morning I walked to work as usual along the footpath that runs along the side of our local secondary school. As usual, I shared the path with a gaggle of teenagers on their way to school. As usual, I nearly passed out from the heady fumes of Lynx, testosterone, perfume and hairspray as they passed me. But then I was struck by a thought. These teenagers looked pretty happy. Most of them were smartly dressed and talking amicably to one another. Some of them even smiled at me and stood aside to let me past. Granted, a few dropped litter on the ground and I’m fairly sure that a group of girls were laughing at my animal-print rucksack, but then I probably would have done if I was them.

And then I started to think that maybe this picture of despair and doom was not inevitable, or universal. Sure, our young people face enormous pressures.  But we mustn’t let ourselves be paralysed by a kind of inertia that says “It’s going to happen anyway, and there’s nothing I can do about it.” We absolutely must not abdicate our responsibilities for our children and young people.

What can we do? We can equip them, and empower them. We can build their confidence and self-esteem. A child or teenager that feels good about him or herself is much less likely to be pressurised into doing something that they are uncomfortable with. We need to talk to our kids, even (especially) about those issues that may be awkward or uncomfortable. I don’t know about you, but I would far rather my daughters learn about sex and relationships from me first, rather than from YouTube, More magazine, or their friends. We need to teach them the facts, teach them how to stay safe, let them know that they can always talk to us, or another trusted adult such as an aunt or uncle, godparent, or family friend. And most importantly, we need to teach them that it’s OK to say no to anything that makes them uncomfortable. It’s OK not to conform, to stand up for what we believe.

And we need to model that, too. We need to speak up if we’re uncomfortable about something our children or young people are participating in. Not happy with your 8-year-old daughter watching a 12 certificate film at a friend’s house? Not happy about your child wearing clothing that other parents feel is alright?  Not happy for your underage offspring to have their own Facebook page? Don’t be afraid to say so. If you are anything like me, what people think of you matters. No-one likes being different, or unpopular. Where I have been really challenged is by this: what is more important- other parents thinking I’m boring, odd, weird or whatever they might like to call me- or my daughters’ wellbeing? Am I really saying that my popularity is more important than my children? This extends to our relationship with our young people, too. We must not be afraid of being unpopular with our children sometimes. It goes with the turf of being a parent. We need to be prepared to say no, to explain why, and to stick to our guns. Sometimes we may find that our children are actually grateful for this; it’s often easier for them to get out of a tricky situation by blaming us. Saying “I can’t come, mum won’t let me” might be more face-saving than “actually, I’d rather not go.”

That doesn’t mean to say that we have to claim the moral high ground, and make other parents feel bad about their parenting choices. Each family is different, and what one parent is perfectly happy with may make another uncomfortable. We just need to be confident in our own decisions, explain them if need be, stick to our guns, and not be afraid to be different. If we can model that behaviour to our children, we will be doing them a big favour. And let’s think positive! Let’s not write off a whole generation of young people and expect the worst of them, but hope and pray that each young life will realise all the amazing potential that God has put inside them.


What do you think? All comments and feedback gratefully received!

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