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Are We Spoiling Our Kids?

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Author: Louise Geaney

ARE the children in your life running your life? Are work commitments outside the home making you feel guilty that you leave your offspring with others to be reared, resulting in you indulging them a little too much when you are re-united? If so, you're not alone, according to the experts, who say many new age parents are failing to assume the role of the adult in the relationship with their children, who are consequently running the family show.

Guilt is the Number One factor to blame for this situation says American clinical psychologist Diane Ehrensaft. The author of the book Spoiling Childhood: How Well-Meaning Parents Are Giving Children Too Much-But Not What They Need says parents today are often caught up in a guilt-driven pendulum, swinging between parenting too little and parenting too much. According to Ehrensaft we are giving too much freedom, material goods, and empty praise to our children in place of setting limits and giving guidance, time and love.

"We parent like Tarzan on a rope, wildly swinging from never being there enough to being there far too much," Ehrensaft says, of modern parents who are caught in the juggling act of trying to have 'it all'. Today's parents are, she says, caught in the predicament of wanting to pursue their own needs/ambitions while at the same time wanting to give their children more opportunities and materialistic items than they themselves had. "It is a predicament for these professional, middle-class parents who have gone after what they have wanted - career, money, happiness - sometimes at the expense of their children's well being, and yet who also act as if the sky is the limit for their children," she says

The families that frequent the psychologist's practice sound familiar. Parents that work hard, yet help out with homework and organise after school activities for their kids' five days a week. In these families children rarely help around the house and their demands are met with the least amount of resistance. Sounds like a scene from many Irish homes- but where does the boundary between wanting to encourage our children's growth and rearing potentially unsociable bullies begin to blur?

The word discipline may cause some parents to break out in a rash, but according to psychologists it's a necessary part of the parenting process. Parents in 2005 may want their children to be free spirited and more spontaneous than previous generations, but this doesn't mean they don't need their parents to act like, well, parents. Without firm parameters, authorities say children are forced to scream and whine, desperately looking for the reference point from which to grow and develop.

"Worrying about our children not liking us if we discipline them can prevent some parents from establishing firm structures for behaviour that our children need. We must stop abdicating the throne and accept our position as an adult," Ehrensaft says. "Children do not do well with deposed kings and queens for parents. To be good parents, we definitely must give generously of ourselves, but never give ourselves over to our children," she states.


About the author

Louise Geaney is a freelance journalist based in Ireland and founder of the parenting website and podcast show

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