I began to ponder what good parenting might look like, and how to define good, healthy, parent-child and adult-child attachments. Since a lot of Child and Youth Care practitioners work with families, and often take on a pseudo-parenting role, I think it is important for all of us to have a clear objective in mind.
I see a lot of parents of teenagers in my private practice and I often hear them lament how their children are very difficult to manage. They talk a lot about missed curfews and late homework assignments, and there seems to be a lot of energy invested in trying to get these unruly teens to obey and behave. When I ask them to tell me the last time that they had fun with their son or daughter, they look at me as if I haven't a clue what they are up against. When I disclose that I have a firm belief that teens really want to be in relationship with their parents, I tend to get skeptical and suspicious responses. Some parents believe that their children are only interested in having a connection with them if there is something that can be gained, like a new Ipod, keys to the car, a later curfew, etc. Such comments have raised some questions for me about how these relationships have become so skewed, with parents usually feeling manipulated and unappreciated.
I have learned a tremendous amount from the youth that I worked with, both while I was an Outreach Youth Worker and a Youth & Family Counselor. I clearly remember many conversations with teens who felt ignored or abandoned by their parents. One particular incident involved a fifteen-year-old girl who was in conflict with her parents because she had decided to start smoking. One day this girl revealed to me how she was hurt and upset by the fact that her parents no longer tucked her in at night. I have to admit that I was shocked. At the time my own children were quite young and the bedtime routine included many snuggles as they settled down for the night. However, it never occurred to me that there was an adolescent version of this routine that required the same kind of parental attention.
I was under the impression that, as teens moved through adolescence, they tended to separate from their parents and disengage in order to develop their independence. Clearly I was wrong! The more I checked the more I realized that youth have the same need for connection and nurturing as their younger counterparts, but somehow we have accepted this notion that they are geared towards distancing, often alienating themselves from significant adult relationships. This then leads to a greater connection with peers and strained relationships at home.
In seeking out materials for this article I came across a book written by
Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate titled Hold On To Your Kids; Why Parents
Matter. Neufeld has written extensively on Attachment Theory and so I
thought he would be a good resource. The book examines some of the cultural
influences that have moved kids today towards a "peer orientation" which has
"muted our parenting instincts, eroded our natural authority and caused us
to parent not from the heart, but from the head." There is much discussion
as to the causes and consequences of "peer orientation" which might help
parents understand their children in more depth. I was more interested in
discovering ways in which we can help parents reconnect with their children
and teens in a way that would offer them much needed guidance and mentorship
as they head towards adulthood. The book offers a number of recommendations
in terms of how to reduce a child's "peer orientations" and replace them
with an active adult or "parent orientation" and it is for this reason that
I would recommend it to my clients.
Neufeld, G. and Mate, G. (2004). Hold On To Your Kids: Why Parents Matter. New York. Alfred A. Knopf.
Koroll, M. (2004). Good attachment: What is it? Relational Child and Youth Care Practice, 20, 2. pp. 36-37.