Our world is rapidly changing. Yet, the human brain still evolves through certain stages. In those stages of child and adolescent growth, parental wisdom is required. This wisdom is not gained by following the herd, as the crowd simply moves with what others in the herd are doing.
The movement toward no limits
More and more, we see children and adolescents with fewer limits set on their behaviors and their access to content. The herd moves in this direction. Here are a few examples.
• It is estimated that over five million children under the legal age to have a Facebook page, do have one anyway. Most with the help of parents. As of last year, 40% of children have a social media account by 11.4 years of age. • The average age for a smart phone is now 10.3. Most of these children have a phone with no monitoring software in place and no restrictions set on what they can access.
• Even if they don’t have a phone, 64% of children now have access to the Internet via their own tablet or laptop. In just four years, the number of young children who have free access to the Internet in their bedrooms has almost doubled, up to 24% in 2016.
• Video games have become more realistic, and some kids are more prone to the negative influences. While some are innocent, many contain violence to people or animals, profane language, disrespect for authority, support for criminal activity, romanticized use of drugs or alcohol, and use of sexual and racial stereotypes. Yet, few parents set limits as many preadolescent or adolescent boys will spend as much as 35 hours a week gaming.
• 13% of 9-year-old children now have a credit card, with 20% of those age 13 carrying a credit card. With this, they can purchase anything they want, often without ever having to pay the bill.
The price to be paid with no limits
In each of the examples above, children are experiencing more freedoms, more opportunities and more movement into grown-up lives, but doing so without any of the lessons of adult responsibility. Not only do they get the benefits that come from being an adult, but they never have to pay the price of earning those benefits. This creates a disconnect from reality and the sense of effort that leads to results. Instead, the expectation develops of getting everything while doing nothing to earn it. There is a sense of entitlement to having it all while contributing nothing. This is ugly, and you will not enjoy it.
Perhaps equally important, children are getting access to information and materials that were never available before. Their young brains are being conditioned and programmed by this information. While nothing is 100% predictable, it is clear that their thoughts and behaviors are influenced by what content they absorb. To argue that it’s not that big a deal, well, that is foolish.
Exposure to violence tends to support violent actions and thoughts, antisocial attitudes and disrespect. Exposure to sad, melancholic, depressing content promotes sadness, depression and even suicide. Constant stimulation from social media and the Internet promotes a brain constantly seeking stimulation and fearing “boredom.” If you think your child is not vulnerable to these influences, you may be brutally incorrect. If you wait to see if there will be a problem, it will be too late.
Please set limits now
A child’s brain needs to be fed content that it can handle. It is much more easily influenced by exposure to emotional content than we experience as adults. Thus, set limits on content. Do not allow unmonitored access to the Internet, movies or video games. Monitor the type of music listened to. Program their brains for happiness and optimism with positive content and healthy activity.
A child or adolescent brain is much more easily conditioned to false expectations. As such, with no limits on how free time is used and how much can be purchased, false lessons about life will inevitably emerge. Avoid the spoiled, indulged and entitled attitude by setting limits and requiring effort before rewards are earned. This is critical in developing a work ethic, as well as developing respect and appreciation for all the goodies they enjoy.
Your children will fight and argue for you to join the herd, and release the limits. Do not listen to this. It is their job to push the limits and your job to hold firm. Let them be miserable for a few moments and then they will join you outside for a game of catch or a bike ride. Set limits on the unhealthy, and open the flood gates to the healthy. Do this with few words, and no arguments. Realize the power of action over words to set effective limits.
The art of setting clear limits does take a bit of practice, but you can do it! And you will see happier, more respectful and engaged children evolve.
Remember: Kids cannot know what is good for them. That is your job. The herd does not know what is good for your kids. Again, that is your job. Trust your view of what you see. If it looks positive, supports good values and promotes a healthy attitude, go for it. If not, trust your gut. Set limits and sleep well at night.
Dr. Randy Cale offers practical guidance for a host of parenting concerns. For more information visit www.TerrificParenting.com.