Life with Gracie: Parents had better start parenting again

Remember Brock Turner’s dad? Remember what he said after the former Stanford University swimmer was sentenced to just six months in prison for raping a young woman who was unconscious beside a dumpster?

Remember him saying his son should not have to go to prison for “20 minutes of action”?

Remember the Texas teen who was sentenced to 10 years of probation for intoxication manslaughter, instead of prison, after his lawyers cited a now notorious “affluenza” defense, suggesting he was too rich and spoiled to understand the consequences of his actions? Remember his mom fleeing with him to Mexico after prosecutors launched an investigation into whether the teen had violated said probation?

And what about the Cobb County mom who encouraged her daughter to stomp another teen during a fight last month?

Has the world gone mad or have parents simply forsaken their role to “train up” their children?

Until recently, I always found that phrase “train up” in the book of Proverbs a little curious, but over the past weeks and months, I can’t imagine a more urgent need than for parents to, well, parent.

That means setting rules and boundaries for their children so that they can grow and thrive in the best ways possible.

Most of us can agree parenting isn’t easy.

Not only is everybody doing it differently, no one does it perfectly, and each of us has an opinion about how to do it.

If recent news events are any indication, few of us are willing to allow our children to feel the consequences of their actions, and in some instances, parents are joining with their children to do the unthinkable: robbing people, fighting and covering up their “mischief.”

You don’t have to be an expert to know something is terribly wrong; that our fruit is rotting on the tree.

Nicki Nance, an assistant professor of psychology and human services at Beacon College in Leesburg, Fla., said parents aren’t parenting, and they aren’t for several reasons.

One, they, themselves, are from a cohort of latchkey kids who did not see a lot of actual parenting.

Two, the push to raise children with good self-esteem is misread by parents as a push to tell their children they are awesome no matter what they have or have not done. Self-esteem that is not backed by self-mastery becomes narcissism.

And three, the culture promotes self-aggrandizing — taking selfies, flexing and posturing in music, and posting our profiles in social media — and it is done by the parents and the children they are raising.

“It’s like a big chunk comes out of parenting skills of every age cohort,” Nance said.

While the majority of baby boomers came of age when at least one parent stayed home, Nance said that changed in 1964, when the first group of latchkey kids was born. By the high school class of 1986, there were a lot of kids who didn’t have adequate parenting.

“Every generation since then has had less opportunity to parent because both parents were working,” she said. “That in turn left a self-entitled generation that is parenting from their inner child instead of parenting with their child’s future in mind. Instead, they are parenting with their own needs in mind and an ego that needs their children to be right, to be a winner, and to be awesome. Parents are looking at things like achievement, not integrity, and not the resilience that comes from failure.”

Although parental involvement in the crimes cited early on might seem like extreme cases, the same sorts of things happen on a smaller level when parents seek to get teachers to change failing or less than stellar grades.

“They hurt these kids, and as they develop and grow, you can see it,” Nance said. “It leaves kids without the skills they need to tolerate frustrations, to improvise when something is missing, and to build the resilience that comes from mastering something that is challenging.”

Nance said parents need to consider what they’d like their children’s future to look like and how what they are doing will serve that vision.

“If you want them to be thick-skinned, you have to be willing for them to take hits,” she said. “It’s not easy. No one wants to see their kid struggle, but it’s necessary.”

Middle- and upper-income people like to point their fingers at single parents and African-American parents, but bad parenting occurs at every socio-economic level imaginable. Even married parents disagree on how to get it done.

Sometimes we’d rather be the good parent than engage in good parenting. We take the negative comment or furrowed brow as a bad report card, rather than as a sign we’re actually doing our job. We seek to please, to avoid conflict and criticism, and to see our children smile.

We ignore the call in Proverbs to train them up because rather than lead them to higher ground, we’d rather stroke them.

It’s no wonder our fruit is rotting.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

X