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Saturday, 2 May 2015

Extreme Parental Guidance

On 29 April 2015, Dutch public TV broadcasted a documentary on parenting. While it was big news to some, it was no surprise to my mother (80). My mother had seen this shift in parenting already when parents with kids visited the store that she ran with my father for many decades.

In my former marriage, I always had to play the (part-time) role of 'bad cop' as the role of 'good cop' had already been taken on a full-time basis. Part of me is still 'old school' and 'old school' may become 'new school' again in due time. In time, life's pendulum always swings both ways.

I was however quite surprised to learn from clinical psychologist Jan Derksen that young people (age < 25) now use 40% of the Dutch mental healthcare capacity (NL: GGZ). The reason for this is that parents have become overprotective towards their children. Parents and even school teachers try to avoid that children get disappointed. Furthermore, children receive a lot of pampering partly because of the parents' wealth and partly due to a feeling of guilt for not being around full-time. 

Consequently, when young adults finally face real life and its disappointments (in a study, at work, in a relationship) then they have difficulties in coping with them as they have no prior experience in dealing with disappointments. The result: a burn-out at 25.

Recently, another (Dutch) study on narcissistic children found that children whose parents overvalued them, were more likely to develop narcissistic traits, such as superiority and entitlement (link 1, link 2). Apparently, scientists had earlier assumed that narcism would develop from coldness in a parent-child relationship. My mother was however far from surprised by this scientific "news" and she immediately referred to those annoying children as brats (NL: ettertjes). 

The challenges that parents nowadays face have even resulted in a new kind of TV show (e.g., Jo Frost with Extreme Parental Guidance). 

Considering the impact on society, it's rather remarkable and interesting that parenting isn't a topic in our education system and that there are no restrictions on raising children. The US public TV channel PBS hosts an interesting article on this issue. I suppose this topic must be a taboo like euthanasia. The website debate.org reveals that 74% of the respondents agree that parents should be required to have a parenting license in order to have a child. Frankly, I am surprised by this clear majority. 

While a parenting license may seem farfetched to many of us, the reality is that we do read about children being forcibly removed from their birth-parents by government agencies (source).

So far, it is a fundamental human right to raise children whether fit, competent or not. Sometimes this raises complex legal situations (e.g., surrogate mothers). However, earlier governmental attempts in birth control have resulted in near demographic disasters (link 1, link 2, link 3).

Prevention - through education of both parents and teenagers - is far better than subsequent cure - e.g., through (forced) governmental control over child care. Let alone a (conditional) parenting license. It's time for parents to be parents again rather than trying to be their children's "friends".