In our day to day lives it’s very easy to have our vision clouded. We become consumed by everything from our children’s grades to overdue taxes. At the end of the proverbial day, however, there’s only one thing that really matters: our relationships with each other.

When you have kids, the foundation of their relationships starts at home. Our children model their behaviors after what they see. If we’re not being respectful to our spouse of significant others, how will our children act? If we lace everything we say with sarcasm, what will our children do? If we only worry about our day-to-day immediate needs, what will our children see? Further complicating our jobs as parents we all know that young children and ‘tweens only see and react to what’s immediately in front of them anyway. I’m sure we could argue that about many teenagers and certain 40 year-olds.

While every child is wired differently, and if you’re the parent of more than one child you are constantly amazed how the same gene pool can produce such radically different creatures, the responsibility for guiding these little people lies on our shoulders. After all, that’s why we carry the label of parent. Maybe I should re-label that as “Parent.”

Parenting is a big responsibility and I fear that many different elements in our society – including our own parenting behaviors – are conspiring to undue the role of parents. American culture deifies youth. From the Teen Choice Awards to Botox America stinks of the sweat from trying to find the next prodigy, the next youth phenom. We marvel at the 21 year old college professor, and the eight year-old R&B singer who sings with as much soul as a 40 year-old in a Memphis road house. You’ve heard Michael Jackson’s first recordings.

And you saw what happened to him as an adult.

We’re so impressed by children excelling at any talent early in their lives that we’re begging to rob our children of their youth. Look at the programming on Nickelodeon that is marketed to ‘tweens. The subject matter is all about boyfriends girlfriends and teen angst that elementary school kids do not have the emotional developmental capacity for.

Am I being an overprotective parent? Maybe. But why carry the label “Parent” if all I’m going to do is take the laissez-faire attitude that “kids will work it out” on the playground? Isn’t it my job to at least know as much about my child’s life while he is in elementary school in order to try to give him some tools to cope with life as he gets older, which does nothing than get more complicated and more difficult?

Anecdotally I’ve found that there are some parents who just have no idea about what’s going on in their children’s lives. Isn’t it our job to know? Isn’t it our job to find out?

And here’s the kicker; your home doesn’t have to be a fascist regime to get this intelligence. It all starts with respect. My children know that I respect them each as individual people. They also know that there are distinct lines between that of child and parent, and that there are certain things that their father is not going to let them do until they are older.

Now there are things that my boys have experienced in other households that I would not have necessarily wanted to happen so soon in their lives. But when my boys have told me about these things I’ve reminded them not to expect the same things to happen in our house for a few more years, but I don’t get upset and I don’t tell them that they can’t go to the houses of those friends any more. That’s when we show our boys that we not only respect people in our family but in other families as well. One family may allow ten years-olds to do certain things, we don’t. It’s neither good not bad; it’s just different.

I don’t expect my boys to understand the nuances of those differences, but I do want them to understand consistency in our home. The very vague analogy in the last paragraph, however, begs another question. How far as a parent do you take this notion of respect for how other households operate? Do you pull in the reins only when physical harm is eminent? I’m sure every family has a different sense of how deep they’re willing to allow that feeling of discomfort to build when their child is going to a house in which the parenting styles do not mesh with their own.

Let’s be honest, we don’t all parent the same way. That’s OK. But not talking about it is also one of the many 800 pound gorillas that currently lurk in the living rooms of today’s parents. I think as parents we find very surreptitious ways of dancing around potentially more direct conversations in order to uncover parents who do have similar parenting styles. The human animal likes to find similarities in others, and we as parents like to find environments for our children in which we feel our children will still be safe…according to our own interpretations of what safe is.

So how safe are your children? Do you know everything they’re getting themselves into? Do you have a good dialog with them? How much respect are you showing your kids, and in turn teaching them to show others including you? And how much respect are you showing yourself?

I feel like it’s time for all of us to start asking ourselves some tougher questions, which will, ironically, make life better – not necessarily easier – for our kids, and us as well.


RJ Lavallee is the author of IMHO (In My Humble Opinion): a guide to the benefits and dangers of today’s communication tools on sale at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and lulu.com.

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