Ten Daunting Societal Influences on Parents
It does not take a sociologist or an anthropologist or psychologist to see that today’s parents face a daunting array of social influences that were not nearly as disruptive to families and parents just ten or fifteen years ago as they are now.
These social influences make parenting more complicated and challenging than ever before. Too often, what worked for our parents with us, as children, simply does not work well for us now, as parents with our own children.
The following are some of the social influences that make parenting a much more serious challenge now than in the past. (You are invited to write down more ideas of your own in the Workspace provided in Appendix 1, and send your ideas to me via email.)
- The rate of change brings enormous personal pressures.Technological changes are occurring so rapidly that life has become extremely complicated, and highly pressured, for everybody. Robotics, smart machines, and artificial intelligence have been–and will continue to be–replacing human beings in the most mundane and the most complicated jobs alike.Highly specialized technical knowledge and skills are more and more required to program and manage those machines, with two devastating results. First, millions of family supporting jobs in this country have simply vanished, putting millions out of work. Second, a highly skilled workforce requires highly specialized training and education, but education costs keep rising astronomically, making post-secondary education an impossible goal for more and more people–both young people entering the workforce and older workers displaced by technology.
- Economic pressures are overwhelming many parents. Since the 1980’s America’s middle class has been disappearing, as income levels for wage earners in the bottom three-fifths of the workforce have not only stagnated, but actually declined. As if that weren’t bad enought the economic recession of 2008 and following has had devastating effects on families, costing millions of parents their livelihood and their homes. Almost all women of child-bearing age are either employed or desperately seeking employment; the “stay-at-home” child-rearing mom may be gone forever.Economic pressures have long required that even in two-parent families both parents–if they are fortunate enough to have jobs–must work just to make ends meet. In single-parent families the economic pressures are ever so much greater on the parents (usually mothers), who–if they are fortunate enough to have jobs–come home physically exhausted and emotionally stressed.Overwhelmed, anxiety-ridden parents struggle mightily to meet the demands of needy children and usually require help from grandparents and/or day care centers, which they often cannot afford.The personal economic impact on parents and families can be devastating: job layoffs, unemployment, evaporation of investments, mortgage and foreclosure tragedy, credit card debt, legal fees, reduced credit availability for their small businesses, increasing health care and education costs, rising food and fuel prices, and on and on. Parents everywhere are beset by endless financial concerns absolutely requiring their attention while also draining them of energy and optimism. These concerns are strong competitors for parents’ attention to needy children, and they place significant strain on even strong marital relationships.
- Family break-up places enormous pressure on both children and parents. Here I’m referring to some very unpleasant realities. Divorce rates for all marriages in America are way over 50 percent, and half of all children born to married parents will experience their parents’ divorce before reaching 18 years of age, while a full 40% of American children are raised without their father in the home. Unmarried couples often have children and later split up. Bitter fights and lawsuits over custody, placement, and visitation are too common among separated and divorced parents.Teenagers, who are obviously too young to be responsible parents, are having babies and grandparents are too often forced into parenting their grandchildren, an enormous responsibility they had not willingly planned on and may not welcome.These trends can be said to be at epidemic proportions, and they typically inflict long-term, emotionally painful, and highly stressful experiences for everyone involved in them.Beyond the often devastating effects of heated and too often vicious parental disputes over children, is the ugly reality that “anyone can sue anyone for anything.”Ethics, right and wrong, best interests of children, appropriate custody placements, and complicated moral and psychological issues have become increasingly subjected to the violence of a litigious society. Exorbitant legal expenditures along with increasingly limited insurance coverage for appropriate mental health services plague many already overly-stressed parents, who have no choice but to assume more financial strain than they can reasonably handle.The stressors discussed thus far have been present in many “trapped” families for two or three generations, making theirs a hellish way of life from which escape and betterment may be all but impossible. And, as if all those pressures weren’t enough for struggling parents, there’s much more that contributes to what could easily be termed a brutal world in which to raise kids.
- Legal changes have tied parents’ hands. While frustrations and tensions mount within the home, legislation limits parental responses to children’s misbehaviors, limiting their range of responses and also making parents legally and/or financially responsible for children’s misbehaviors. Physical discipline, an often-used tool of countless generations of parents, is not only discouraged by family experts, but has been increasingly (and rightfully) made illegal by lawmakers who justifiably seek to protect children from the physical and sexual violence that (most often) occurs in families.Parents are increasingly (and unrealistically) being held legally and financially responsible, even punished with jail time, for their children’s anti-social behavior. I have known parents who were being legally punished and penalized for their child’s truancy when in fact they had been repeatedly driving the child to school, and walking them into the principal’s office, only to have the child disappear for the day out the back door of the school.
- “Infoglut” and the overaccessibility of information through TV, internet, cell phones, iphones, ipads, ipods, and other electronic technologies have broken down the family walls. As far as information is concerned, just about everybody (including children) has access to everything. So much of what not so long ago was considered “classified” or “private” information is now broadcast openly–indeed, shamelessly and irresponsibly–in the name of financial profit simply because it titillates or sells, and because technology makes it all the more possible.
- Continuing breakdown of sexual mores exacerbates the problems presented by ever-younger physical maturation and pubescence. Linked with “Infoglut,” as well as with technological advances, the hormone-driven appeal of sexual expression continues to become more widespread. Children are increasingly sexually active, and reproducing, and doing so at younger and younger ages. Adult society seems truly conflicted about this: decrying it on the one hand, blatantly encouraging it on the other.
- Depersonalization: medication as the answer to emotional/mental problems. Since the insurance industry now runs the therapeutic show–largely because of excessive fees of practicing therapists–the quickest, cheapest, solutions are too often the only ones accepted for reimbursement. Rather than a long-term engagement of real people (parents and professionals together) working through real emotional and/or relationship problems, it is too often the “quick fix” promise of medication that is used in an attempt to bring a problem child into line. Goal-oriented behavior change in emotionally troubled children (and/or parents) is the only affordable approach allowed by insurance companies–which are increasingly reluctant to cover mental health issues. Instead of dedicating the time necessary to help people grow as persons, to nurture and strengthen relationships in which people learn to get along better, society is more prone to tinker with a child’s brain in an attempt to control or eliminate the antisocial behaviors we can’t tolerate.
- “Over-professionalization” of relationship skills and interpersonal conflicts. Related to my previous point, even when medication is not used as a panacea for emotional and interpersonal problems in living, parents are not very often encouraged to learn the parenting skills that their children need. Instead, parents are encouraged to take the child to one or more experts, have him evaluated, and then let the experts “fix” him. This is too often attempted with little or no attention and support given to helping parents learn the relationship skills that could (and should) be used in meeting their child’s emotional needs. Who better could be expected to provide appropriate responses to those emotional needs than a child’s parents?
- Inadequate training for parenthood. Whereas the above influences on parenting are largely, if not completely, beyond a parent’s influence, this last one is not. In addition to all the influences cited above, parenting is so complex and challenging because the preparation and training that the vast majority of parents have received is woefully inadequate for the task. That’s because the only training or education the vast majority of parents have ever received is the training they have gotten as children, at the hands of their own parents.For most of us, “Parenting 101″ is the tutoring we received as children and young adults from our own parent figures (biological parents, grandparents, adoptive parents, foster parents, or other substitute parents, including institutional caretakers). Quite naturally, parents learn from their own parent figures about parenting, and quite naturally we have all learned to parent the way our parents did. Unfortunately, those parenting methods are too often ineffective today. (More on this later.)
- Smarter, quicker, more autonomous and defiant children. What this whole depressing litany adds up to, when it comes to impacting our children, is a dizzying life pace with too much stress, caused by a bombardment of too much adverse stimulation from too many sources that ceaselessly vie for their attention. This is visually illustrated, for example, in the ever-increasing rapidity and intensity of both images and sound bytes inflicted on us all by the electronic babysitter, the television. It occurs in both regular programming and ads, and it is for many obnoxious.A constant barrage of stimuli from all quarters on young brains and nervous systems makes the prevalence of ADD- and ADHD-like symptoms seem quite a reasonable consequence, and perhaps even an inevitable one. It’s no wonder parents in my classes consistently say that their children are “so smart,” and “so independent.” On both physical and intellectual levels, they are living world that force-feeds them super-sized “meals” fortified by super-junk food at super-fast rates and that demands super-fast responses. This bombardment is almost completely beyond the control of caring parents who are themselves frazzled by the same onslaught and the same dizzying life pace.
Nurturing emotional connections in such a brutal, fast-paced world can be a challenge for almost any parent. Is it any wonder that parents everywhere struggle to find the time, patience, and inner serenity required to nurture healthy emotional connections? Is it any wonder that so many children seem to suffer from overstimulation and undernuturing? Parenting today is not a walk in the park.
3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my book that describes in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model and the New School Parenting model. Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase.