Over the last few years as a counsellor I have been meeting with children, adolescents, and parents. I have been running parent groups, running workshops and attending courses. Lately I have come to realise in the words of Bob Dylan ‘Times are a changing’ or more precisely they have changed.
In the past if a child misbehaved parents were sure of what to do, they ‘disciplined’ their children, they punished them, by whatever means they thought necessary. Parents could send them to their room, not allow them dinner, or even hit them. Today children know they have rights and that some things are not acceptable, and will threaten their parents with ‘I will ring Childline’, or the Gardai.
So the question is what do we do now? The opinion of one popular writer/ psychologist is that we should return to the world of hard discipline and run families in the traditional style of someone being a boss, a dictatorial style of leadership which can leave the children without a voice, and often those without a voice will find another way to communicate their unhappiness in the form of rebellion.
However if I agreed with this philosophy I would not have written this article. There are many new ways of living with and training children that are tried and trusted, but have never been widely broadcasted.
In today’s democratic world it follows that families must be run on a democratic basis that includes everyone. We live in country that is free where we all have our own ideals, where our opinion is valued, where we have chosen a leader and we have the right to disagree and criticise. However within this freedom we must live inside the rules and boundaries of our democracy and if we break those rules there are consequences that we have agreed with.
In family life it could be the same. Everyone, especially children, need boundaries, it shows that they are cared about. Without boundaries people will look for them to know where the lines are and if we cannot find the lines we constantly push to see how far we can go until someone shows us that they care about us and our actions. Then the next time we know exactly how far to go to get mam or dad to intervene to show they care.
The first thing is to lay down boundaries, by including everyone; maybe at a family meeting and decide what the rules should be. Now, there is an agreement about what the consequences should be if the rules are broken and already some of the competition between siblings has been removed from family life simply be agreeing what the boundaries are. Another problem has also been ‘nipped in the bud’ the difficulty of punishment. When anyone is punished, and I’m sure growing up that lots of people reading this article were punished just as I was, I remember very well how unfair it was and how hurt I felt that other people were punishing me.
If consequences are agreed prior to misbehaviour then everyone knows what is going to happen when they break the rules, now it is not just ‘parents who are punishing a victim’ creating an ‘us and them’ scenario, but a whole family as a group has taken on social responsibility.