Parenting today is full of anxiety especially in the light of advancement in the cyber space. Just a couple of months back, the news was abuzz with dangers youngsters are exposed to because of the Blue Whale Challenge. This news made parents and teachers sit up and question how safe our children really are while surfing the internet.
There could be many other sinister dangers lurking around which may seem attractive to our teenage children. We cannot lock our children in an ivory tower to keep them safe. Also, there is no magic wand or superhero to tackle dangers and protect our children. We parents need to work on strengthening our relationship with our children so that they are open to receiving guidance from us. For that we have to parent with connection.
This means keeping the bond with our child at the centre of all our actions. Asking ourselves at every step- Are my actions making my child feel close and connected to me? When our children trust us, they feel safe to share their emotions and fears with us without feeling blamed or shamed. Being included in their life, helps us to steer them from harm and keep them safe.
Here are a few areas on how parents can work on this connection everyday:
Understanding our children: All human behaviour is driven by needs. Growing children show a strong need for autonomy and exploration. Research shows that a lot of changes happen in the adolescent brain. The brain is literally telling our teenaged children, ‘Now it is time to learn to support yourselves, you need to move away from your parents to survive in the future. ’ This pushes them to do things we do not understand or like e.g. being rude, wanting to be alone, spending more time with friends, wanting to take risks, challenging some values and beliefs, and experimenting with new things. There is a strong need to detach from the parent to form their individuality. It's important we try to understand their actions, look beyond our hurt, fear and frustration and reach out to them.
Communication: In our society, parents often believe that their role is to teach their child values by using power over them e.g. commanding and demanding things of them. This way of parenting is not helpful as it may make the child submissive or rebellious, disrupting the channel of communication. Often, when our children share their opinions on current issues or family situations, we may cut them short by saying “Don't interfere in adult issues, just concentrate on your studies” OR Sometimes when they are excluded from someone's party we dismiss their feelings by saying, “There is no reason to feel bad. There will be other parties.” Such interactions discourage our children from sharing their life with us.
An integral aspect of effective communication is to LISTEN to a child by showing earnest interest and avoid being judgemental. When we choose to listen to small things then they will be open to sharing the big things with us. They will also be willing to be guided by us as they there is mutual TRUST AND RESPECT.
Empathetic discipline: Children do need boundaries, it makes them feel safe, loved and cared for. Disciplining through punishment and rewards evokes anger, hurt and bitterness in a child. It makes a child want to lie and hide things. Disciplining with empathy and understanding builds the relationship. The tenet to remember while disciplining - Would we find it acceptable to be disciplined by the same methods we use to discipline our child?
Too much expectation burdens a child - We want the best for our children. Yet, if we set their dreams and goals, it can be a burden for them. Children need to get the message that ‘We are present for them in their happiness or despair’. We must work at managing our emotions and expectations and not burden the child with our feelings. Our calm will help the child in his moment of restlessness.
When we parent with connection, it helps reduce our anxiety over children’s safety in cyberspace. It keeps our children safe knowing that if they are scared they have a trusted adult they can turn to. A win-win for both!
Author: Sunitha.R, is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families.