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Reviews Elsewhere – Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers

This wasn’t a review as much as an interview with the authors, Dr Gabor Maté and Dr Gordon Neufeld, but it is worth reading.

Parents must reclaim the central role if growing crisis among children is to end, suggests new book

Some of what they say will be familiar if you follow me here or when I talk about the workplace on my other blog. Kids who are not securely attached to parental figures are at risk. I often talk about them being vulnerable to grooming, but they are also vulnerable to mental health issues and a lack of maturity. For example:

“Maturation happens in the context of strong attached relationships with nurturing adults, who promote independence by inviting dependence. Children can develop independence when they have a strong sense of self.”

You may have seen me writing about the sense of self around here a few times. As an abused child, that was the one thing I lacked that held me back as an adult more than anything else. I was adrift in creating an adult life without a sense of self. I could only base my decisions on what others told me to do. I was vulnerable to many influences, not all of whom had my best interests in mind. Others meant well but didn’t know me well enough to know what would work and what wouldn’t, but very few people taught me my place in the larger world – my sense of self. I had to go to therapy to get an understanding of that, and then I had to do a lot of maturing to get it.

Without involved adults, kids don’t see an example of someone with a sense of self because their peers aren’t mature enough to have a healthy sense of self. Thus, we have kids who are very active in activities with their peers, including many activities that are good for them but without a solid tether to security.

This may seem to contradict some recent research that pointed out the mental health impacts of kids not having free time with peers to explore without parents looking over their shoulders, but I think it’s related. Kids need that free play time. It helps them develop social skills and experiment with finding their sense of self in their community. However, that also requires having a solid foundation from adult relationships to allow for experimentation versus dependence on peer relationships for their sense of self.

Parents, don’t walk away feeling like this is your fault. They also point out that society plays a vital role in explaining why this has gotten worse:

“From an early age, for economic and social reasons, children don’t see their parents most of the day.”

Yes, if both parents work, and not many families can afford not to, children grow up without their presence. As work demands more and more of our time and attention, kids get less. As work demands that we move closer to fast-growing corporate areas of the country, kids spend less time with grandparents, aunts, and uncles. They spend more time in daycare and after-school care, with larger and larger staff-to-child ratios and no real connection to adults.

This is one of the many reasons I am a proponent of flexible and remote work. Kids need adults who have time for them. That includes parents and other adults who can be involved in the community as volunteers, coaches, etc. When you work 50-60 hours per week and another 7-10 commuting, let alone traveling as part of your job, it’s impossible to be involved in the community.

I think parents are now at a disadvantage when it comes to spending the time necessary to connect with their kids. For single parents, this all gets harder to do.  This leads to many of the other issues, including kids being online, as the authors also mentioned. However, again, I don’t think it’s as simple as internet = bad for kids. I think social media and the internet mirror what we see in real life. Kids are online without any adult involvement. Instead of watching TikTok together and learning about how to be online from parents and adults, they are learning from each other and terrible adults.

I’ll repeat what I’ve said many times. Kids are often vulnerable because they have no close adults to trust and lean on for support. No one is there modeling what a mature sense of self is, so they aren’t learning it. I don’t necessarily agree with everything Drs. Maté and Neufeld said in this interview that I’m sure I wouldn’t agree with everything in their book, but on this point, I agree. Kids need trusted adults who make them feel safe and loved.

Yet we keep creating a society that makes it harder to provide that for kids. We are paying a price for that.

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