Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW
I'm in my low thirties and my oldest children are now in their early teens. Due to increased awareness and education, my friends and I focus on parenting with more positivity, empathy, validation, communication, and emotional awareness than the previous generation. Our parents expected more from us than we expect from our children, and we usually had to do what was right even if we didn't feel like it. Recently, I'm noticing a disturbing trend. The young adults of today seem more delicate and less resilient than we were. They have a harder time handling the normal stresses that come along with life's blessings, be it a job, marriage, pregnancy, or baby. What can we do to raise resilient children who will grow to be hardworking adults who are willing and able to work through challenges?
You appear to be associating changes in parenting style with lower resilience. Additionally, you seem to feel that it is the emphasis on empathy, validation, and the like that is robbing the younger generation of their resiliency.
I think that each generation is different from the one that came before it. Your lament about the ills of the younger generation is a common refrain that has been repeated throughout the ages. Generally speaking, and on the surface, it may appear that Generation Z is more fragile than the generations that preceded it. However, generational differences are rarely one-dimensional; they are typically multi-faceted. As such, there may be factors that moderate the negative effects that you mention. Introspection and being in touch with one’s needs and emotions, for instance, can help our children to better self-regulate later in life.
Specifically with regard to the more hands-on parenting style that you mentioned, it is likely that there are numerous factors involved. I don’t believe that we can point directly to the change in parenting style as the sole cause of the decrease in resiliency. There are likely many causes, like the education system, popular media, peer influences, and the like.
Nor can we assume that any connection between parenting and resiliency is indicative of a unidirectional relationship. Just as parenting style affects children’s development, changing societal—and therefore children’s—needs necessitate differing parental practices. Although previous generations of children may have developed a thick skin, this may have been largely due to societal expectations and their recognition of the norm. As these and other factors change, previously successful parenting practices may become rather detrimental.
As an example, I have been asked about corporal punishment, and whether slapping a child is an appropriate measure. While I will not weigh in on whether it may have been more appropriate in the past, I believe that for many children it is significantly more problematic today than it was a few generations ago. This is due to the changing parent-child relationship, as well as to expectations wrought by popular culture, family, school, friends, and society in general.
While being slapped thirty years ago may have been improper, the message that was received by the child was likely significantly different than that received by a child today. Without going into details, today’s child may be more likely to view such a punishment as an indication of something being wrong with them, leading to the inability to cope with the resultant self-flagellation. This can easily lead to further negative behavior. (Though this was undoubtedly true in the past, it may be more so today.)
Although parenting practices may have significantly changed, as have the way that particular approaches are perceived, some basic parenting goals remain the same regardless of the generation. We want our children to grow into happy, healthy, self-reliant adults. In order for children to be happy, they need to feel supported (hence the positivity, empathy, validation, etc.). For them to be healthy adults, they need to be happy and self-reliant.
Self-reliance is a goal that is reached gradually, and is tailored to each child based on their needs and abilities. There is no guidebook that will describe the precise formula on the basis of which all children will attain the goal of self-reliance. However, if this ultimate goal is borne in mind, we are more likely to adapt our approach to encourage its attainment.
Young children need more support than older ones. As such, we need to balance our support on the one hand and promotion of independence on the other. Some children clearly strive for independence, while others tend to bask in the warmth and comfort of concrete and emotional support. It is important for parents to remember that neither too much self-sufficiency nor too much reliance on parents is optimal. Depending on age, personality, and maturity level, we should offer the appropriate mix of the two.
There is no universal approach that will work for all kids. Remember, however, that it is the eventual goal toward which we should aim. We want to help our children move from fully dependent (at infancy) to independent (as adults). This is a gradual progression. If, over relatively long periods of time, we can verify that our children continue to make positive progress, we can be confident that we are on the right track. It is a marathon—not a sprint. Though the process can be frustrating, if we keep our minds on the ultimate goal, we are more likely to succeed.
-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW
psychotherapist in private practice
adjunct professor at Touro College
Graduate School of Social Work
author of Self-Esteem: A Primer
www.ylcsw.com / 516-218-4200
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