I often hear from parents that they are unsure of when to let kids handle challenges themselves, and when they should get involved. Is strong, directive parenting important, or should independence be cultivated through a…
I often hear from parents that they are unsure of when to let kids handle challenges themselves, and when they should get involved.
Is strong, directive parenting important, or should independence be cultivated through a more hands-off approach? Is a disciplined, structured routine valuable, or do children need to learn the consequences of their own choices? In fact, all of these approaches can be considered excellent parenting provided they fit the situation. Very often, I find that parents choose to back off when it would be helpful for them to be hands-on, but they become very involved when taking a back seat would be better for their child.
An excellent example of lenient parenting that should be more hands-on is the way in which a great many parents manage screen time and social media. In most homes, screens are pervasive and can, therefore, be difficult to monitor and control.
Kids have the impressive ability to find hidden devices and remote controls, hack passwords and sneak screen time, so parents become worn down trying to stay ahead of the tricks, nagging and begging, giving in to hours of time spent on TV, Fortnite, Instagram or YouTube. These type of websites, games and social media are created to be overwhelmingly compelling for kids, so it can be difficult for parents to moderate their use.
Of course, a moderate amount of social screen time is acceptable. I suggest no more than two hours per day total for all screens. Unfettered screen time interferes with sleep, schoolwork, appropriate socializing and family time, so this is a fight worth fighting. Energy spent monitoring screens and providing alternative ways to spend free time is excellent parenting, offering kids the opportunity to learn social-emotional skills, and supporting better sleep, frustration tolerance, creativity and face-to-face socializing. Affirmative, consistent parenting around screen time is necessary to raise emotionally healthy children.
In a similar fashion, parents might not make the effort to enforce bedtimes that provide sufficient sleep, or homework routines that ensure schoolwork is a priority, because when children resist, it takes an effort to establish these practices. However, as with screen time rules, following through in these areas is important to a child’s developmental success.
The very same parents who choose not to expend the extra energy and deal with the hassle of getting screen time under control might spend hours on their child’s arts and crafts project (making sure their child’s project is the best one in the class), orchestrating play dates (with the popular kids), or convincing a teacher to change a poor grade (because the child was too busy with extracurricular activities to study for the test properly). In these and similar situations, moms and dads worry that their child will not achieve success academically or socially if they are left to fend for themselves. In fact, these are times when it is far better to let a child manage with as little interference as possible.
Good parenting is not achieved by manipulating outcomes in a child’s life. Doing so teaches a child that hard, independent work isn’t necessary because someone else will do it for him. Or worse, it communicates to the child that Mom or Dad micromanage because they think the child isn’t capable of doing it herself. When parents jump in to “rescue” a child or “fix” a tough situation, the child is denied the opportunity to learn problem-solving skills, or ways to fix their own problems.
Parenting is tough, but let’s keep the goals clear: It is imperative to create a healthy, structured environment for children in which they are able to test themselves, make mistakes and learn how to self-correct without feeling that a parent will always do it for them. This balance is the path to good parenting and will result in teens and adults who feel confident enough to be independent and secure enough to know their own limits and ask for help when necessary.