Biggest Parenting Mistake: Assuming that we know our children

Published: July 22, 2018 at 10:41 am

At work, I have the privilege of constantly interacting with gen-X (or Y/Z/AA!) – 18+, 20+ young adults coming to terms with an environment very different from school. It is natural to encounter students who are generally unhappy with life and existence. They first seem distracted in class. Then they stop coming and if you ask around, their friends also have noticed similar changes in the hostel. Students become distant, don’t talk to their friends and spend a lot of time alone. While this is a cause for concern, it is quite common and often a phase in growing up. However, it does need attention else it can result in depression and in extreme cases suicide.

We only get to know about student suicides and do not recognise that the campus community has helped many students overcome their troubles. Each time I encounter or hear about such a situation, I often wonder what is the root cause of this? Is there anything that we can do to handle student depression better? Naturally, this is a complex issue and there are no easy answers. A series of events in my son’s school Whatsapp group makes me write this post.

In every class, there will always be a few kids who resist authority. Even after multiple warnings and visits to the principal’s room, the kids behave the same and often in a manner that can hurt classmates. So for the past few week’s, there have been a series of injuries in my sons class and some that could have been major. Words were exchanged between the parents with the teachers etc. – you can imagine the drill. One particular aspect caught my wife’s eye. She noticed that many of the parents  – whose children were the instigators of the mischief and fights – were in denial.

They claimed that “they knew their children” and that they would “never do such things”. After multiple eyewitness accounts and CTC footage, they were forced to re-evaluate how their children behaved in public away from their gaze. This is true of my son as well. We are slowly recognising that his behaviour in school is quite different from what we see at home. Take a moment and go back in time when you were in school. I did many things that my parents had no clue about and often lied and hid facts from my parents.

The point I am trying to make is, once we become prejudiced about how our children act/react when we are not with them, we are also developing certain expectations from them. If there is a deviation, if they get into trouble, the first reaction of many parents is anger and punishment instead of understanding the issue contextually. The child then gets a clear message: don’t do certain things, if you must do it, ensure your parents do not know.

This (in my opinion) is where it all starts. When the child feels unable to convey their point of view to the parent on at least a few issues. The parents claim that “they know their children” slowly loses credibility year before they enter college. Once in college, it becomes quite easy for the child to claim “everything is okay” to their parents when clearly they are unfocused, generally sad with life and aimlessly adrift.

It is not enough if we shower love on our children, get them what they want and provide for them in any way possible. I think the greatest challenge for a parent is to ensure that the child is comfortable enough to open up as they grow. The child must be comfortable enough to come to us – the parents – first when they are in trouble or at a crossroad.

The first step towards this is to recognise that our children have minds of their own. Their surroundings are unique and something that we are clueless about. We can never judge how they react in our absence to their friends and teachers. They are young humans living and learning in their own way. We do not know our children once they cross the house threshold. Therefore, our first job is to find out (if we need to) without expectations and without anger. Only then will the child be comfortable enough to open up to us. Only then can find out the root of a problem (if there is one).

That comfort, that assurance that they can talk to us, come to us first, no matter how dark the problem is probably the most effective remedy to combat young adult unhappiness. For that, we first need to be adults about this learn about how our children are evolving with an open mind.

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About the Author Pattabiraman editor freefincalM. Pattabiraman(PhD) is the founder, managing editor and primary author of freefincal. He is an associate professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. since Aug 2006. Connect with him via Twitter or Linkedin Pattabiraman has co-authored two print-books, You can be rich too with goal-based investing (CNBC TV18) and Gamechanger and seven other free e-books on various topics of money management. He is a patron and co-founder of “Fee-only India” an organisation to promote unbiased, commission-free investment advice. He conducts free money management sessions for corporates and associations on the basis of money management. Previous engagements include World Bank, RBI, BHEL, Asian Paints, Cognizant, Madras Atomic Power Station, Honeywell, Tamil Nadu Investors Association, IIST Alumni Association. For speaking engagements write to pattu [at] freefincal [dot] com
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