Controlling the toxic parenting pandemic

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Children today are so over-protected, regulated and controlled by their parents that they find it hard to deal with the real world.

They should be allowed to roam more and adults need to accept that their children will behave badly sometimes, be boring and are not perfect.

In his new book, The Art of Growing Up, author John Marsden explains all he has learned from over thirty years’ experience working with and writing for young people.

He believes we are now in the grip of an “epidemic of damaging and toxic parenting” who over plan and over regulate their child’s lives.

Less prying, giving more space and not rushing to their children’s aid is what’s needed to raise resilient and successful future adults.

“We are seeing an epidemic of parents who don’t just love their children but are in love with them,” he said.

“They agonise over every disappointment their child suffers, lavish them with praise when they manage to eat a green bean, record every moment of their children’s lives on camera, manipulate their friendships and encourage their feuds.

“They minimise their child’s transgressions, have no regard for those who are hurt by their child’s narcissism, block any attempts to create a culture with consistent and easily understood values and blame others for their child’s aberrant behaviour.”

The author and teacher has spent decades writing about, teaching and founding schools for young people and believes we are at a crisis point with over-protecting our children.

He is the author of more than 40 books, mostly for teenagers and children, including Tomorrow When the War Began, So Much to Tell You, and Letters from the Inside.

He has sold more than five million books worldwide, and has won every major award in Australia for young people’s fiction.

And he believes we have to take stock of how we are parenting and the damage we are doing to our children.

“By limiting children’s exposure to danger, to fear, we are limiting their ability to mature, develop resilience and independence”, he says.

“They need to learn to take care of themselves and be responsible.

“When I hear parents say ‘I want my children to enjoy their childhood; there’ll be time when they’re older to learn about those things’ I hear the voices of those who are scared of the vastness of the universe.

“Parents are so conditioned to look after the external child, like feeding, clothing and washing them when things like their confidence and emotions are far more important.

“We need to look at how we are parenting and the irreparable damage we are doing to kids.”

Words of wisdom from John Marsden:

1. “The first principle of good parenting is to be aware of the unhealthy ways we construct childhood and adolescence. Their children may not be as perfect as they pretend to be.”

2. “We can reasonably assume that a parent who does not say ‘No’ at least once a day to their child is failing as a parent.”

3. “We must give our children fear. It is a rich and immensely valuable experience to know fear.”

4. “Children need to know that their parents have a good understanding of the way the world works, that they are able to guide them, mentor them, lead them and keep them safe. If parents are gazing at their child in a gooey-eyed reverie of adoration, the child’s situation is dangerous.”

5. “Happiness is a relative term, so unless they experience unhappiness their happiness will be meaningless.”

6. “The biggest single problem for well-meaning parents in Western society in the 21st century is the same problem such parents have had for many generations. They are parenting the wrong child. This is the child who must be fed, clothed, toileted, washed and dried, taken to dance / swimming / football training / tennis lessons. But children have other needs as well. Parents must tend not just to the outer child but the inner one, their emotions, intellect, spirit, strength of character and social intelligence.”

7. “The good parent, the one who can function as an adult in the relationship, understands the need of the child, and is happy to gratify the child’s ego but at the same time is able to constantly bring to the child’s attention the feelings, needs and rights of others.”

8. “Young people have an absolute right to know about puberty, about sex, about politics, about human behaviour, about money, about global issues. To deliberately block the access of children and teenagers to such essential information is a form of child abuse.”

9. “Let them have their own dreams, their own games, their own activities. Stop interfering. Value abstract qualities such as empathy and compassion over material gains.”

10. “Parents should strongly – even forcefully – encourage teenagers to get paid jobs. They are, after all, members of a family not business class passengers on a plane.”

11. “Every parent should wish for their children nothing more than ‘I want him or her to experience life to the fullest.”

12. “We shouldn’t be afraid of boredom, for out of boredom comes creativity.”

The Art of Growing Up by John Marsden, published by Macmillan Australia, RRP $34.99.