“If what we are doing for children is so good for them, why do they fight us so much?” – Roderick Durkin
At some point in our society, we largely accepted the idea that in order to be raised properly and turned into productive citizens, children and youth had to be controlled. It was thought fully rational to ensure that measures were in place that served to maintain a sense of fear and even intimidation amongst young people when relating to the adults in their lives, from parents to teachers to extended relatives, and beyond. It was as if a system of chaos would surely result if any other form of adult/child interaction were attempted. Now let me be clear – not every family or teacher operated in this manner. However, control through fear was once far more acceptable than it is today.
A criticism that is often leveled at parents today, and particularly from those of previous generations, is that they are “not tough enough” on their children. As with many controversial statements in life, there is at least a kernel of truth there somewhere. No doubt, there are many young people today who have too few significant people in their lives who are prepared to hold them accountable for their behaviours. When anyone, but particularly an impressionable child or young adult, is growing up, there is an undeniable need for someone to lovingly but firmly make clear what kinds of behaviours are acceptable, and which are not. To truly care for a young person is to set limits, and create a safe, predictable environment in which to grow up.
The family with firm structure and accountability is important, but taken to an extreme, can tragically make for a humourless, joyless home. Children can easily start to mistake a constant barrage of instructions, expectations and consequences as being a reflection of their parents’ true feelings towards them. In other words, children can assume that a lack of warmth and love from parents is representative of a lack of love for their children, and this can be a crushing conclusion for any young person to reach. We all need to feel loved and cared about; without this feeling, there is little chance that any individual can grow up with healthy thoughts towards others, including themselves.
So why DO children fight us so much sometimes as we try our best to raise them responsibly? Yes, there is a natural process of rebellion that occurs with many teens, where new limits are tested as the growing young man or woman wishes to exercise their needs for independence. Nonetheless, I believe there is something else at work here. Most people, and especially children and youth, bristle at the idea of being told what to do, where strict unquestioning obedience is expected in return. Armies may thrive on this principle, but a family does not contain the same needs and expectations as an army. Most of us at least wish to understand the reason behind a particular instruction, and ideally, have a role in choosing and shaping the expectations placed in front of us.
Children are no different; they need and want a safe, predictable home where someone is clearly in charge. But they also wish to be trusted, equal, respected members of the home, even from a very young age. That can mean allowing a child to choose between feeding the cat and helping fold laundry for an evening chore, for example. It can also mean giving a child or teen an opportunity to have their say over what might make an appropriate punishment for a wrong they have done. This can allow them to feel their voice has value, even if they do not have the final decision over an issue.
Struggle and strife can ensue in a family when some members feel marginalized, and made to feel that their voices have little value. That is one reason why children fight structure we create for their own good at times. Surprisingly enough, allowing children and teens to exercise even a small degree of independence can eradicate that dynamic of “us vs. them”, where parents are seen primarily as rule enforcers. True peace and harmony in a family comes from allowing authentic connections to form, and relationships to develop and deepen. Conflict arising from a need to be in control seldom creates a joyful household.