Today is such a great day. The Sun is finally out in dreary cloudy Melbourne, and my husband is home this week from work. We wanted to replicate ‘holiday mode’ even without the going away part, so have gone out for breakfast most days, gone out for dinner most days, and put housework aside to focus on family time. It is joyous… to say the least. Currently as I type this, I have a 3 year old who has chosen to take his nap on my lap.

These moments are important to me. They silently build something within me that actually makes me happy, content and complete. Recently I wrote a piece regarding mental illness in our children and society and the possible links to pressure from mainstream schools. I have just read a book that adds another idea to the mix of what might be missing from our lives.

Currently, I am reading an out of print book called, “The Collapse of Parenting” by Leonard Sax. It was published some 10 years ago, but in my humble opinion, should be essential reading to all parents in modern society. Sax speaks of the dangers of today not just being social media, junk food or medication/drugs, but very much to do with two factors:

  1. The parent no longer being the authoritative lead in the home, but the child;

and

  1. The shift from family influenced children, to peer to peer influenced children.

The first is something we can see very readily. Parents don’t feel the sense of control they once use to. There seems to be so many things that a child can be attracted to these days, that it does seem so much harder these days to raise children.

When I was a child, there were 5 channels, and you only had two channels in the morning showing cartoons you actually wanted to see, and that ended at 9am. Go outside. Do something else. Now, there are several channels, DVD options, some channels showing round the clock cartoons, iPads, youtube… kids can have what they want, when they want it… right now.

Sax speaks about the 1950s where you were given no choice as to what was given to you at dinner, you ate it or starved. There are no snacks in between, so you knew the times to eat, and it was your choice to not eat the meals given. Today, kids can’t go without a snack in a 40 minute car ride.

Toys are abundant. We are drowning in junk because we can’t find it in ourselves to say no, I mean, its only a $9 toy… just give it to him, he’s been good today. I remember waiting for birthdays and treasuring every toy because I would not get another. And I have to admit, I’m one of those parents who does give my kid that $5 toy once a week at the shops because I just need to get the grocery shopping done!

But even this is something we can control. If we put up rules in our home to ensure some sort of normality of control, we might pull it off. No snacks after 2pm as dinner is at 5:30pm. No sugary drinks at all. No toys unless its your birthday or Christmas (I’m going to try this one! Wish me luck!) This point is somewhat in our control.

I believe the second point is far less out of our control.

(Now typing with one hand as son has decided to move onto my side! Excuse the mess too, on the floors, I can’t move right now!)

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Sax speaks of times gone by, where the family would be the child’s main area of influence. The father would influence the sons to help with the family business. They would always look up to their father, even once they have mastered the trade, as the wise expert and holder of all knowledge. Grandfathers would have more knowledge and thus, the influence was kept within the family.

Sax also says that in the 1950s, a survey to teenage schools students at the time asked them this question, “There is a party that you want to attend, and your friends are attending, however, your parents disapprove of the friends going. Would you go?” A resounding 97% said no, that they would adhere to their parent’s wishes.

Sax personally performed a similar survey in 2006, asking the teenage school students this question, “There is a social media site that your friends are on, but your parents do not want you to go on it. Would you still go on it?” 86% (check this Belinda) said that they would, and for those that answered no, Sax believed that they were being sarcastic due to the amounts of laughter that followed the answer ‘no’.

Now, some of you reading might say, “But this is just where society has gone. Our kids need to learn to live in this society, in this world.” “This is socialisation, our kids need to know how to decide for themselves what is right in this world.”

The dangers of this type of influence, however, are this. When the family is the influencer of the child, they are being influenced with expert knowledge, with a life lived full of mistakes as well as a well-fed life, but most of all, the influence is mostly given out from unconditional love to the child. A child in this type of influence would know boundaries, would feel supported and would know that the knowledge given to them was essential for the betterment of the next generation.

Peer to peer is something different. When a child enters into peer to peer influence, the influence that child goes into the hands of another similar less mature mind. The child will seek approval from anyone who has influence over them, and when it comes to peers, sometimes, they will not align to your family values.

What makes a teenage girl scream and shout because her mother won’t let her go to a party? Why is it acceptable for that teenage girl to scream and shout at her mother? What makes someone so upset at being banned from a social media site that their friends are on? Why would it be acceptable to yell and scream at the people who are primarily taking care of you, and have been, your whole life?

When the influence shifts from parent/family, to peer, a child no longer regards their parents commands, feelings, advice or wishes for them as important. A child looks only to satisfy their peers, and this, as Sax points out, can be so utterly dangerous for our children.

I’m not just talking about the bad influences, drugs, smoking, drinking and sex. I’m talking about not wanting to excel in a subject you’re good at, for fear of being not as cool. I’m talking about not wanting to admit that you went to see a movie with your parents, and actually had a great time. I’m talking about suddenly not caring what your parents think of you, and caring immensely about what your friends, society and the outside world thinks of you.

Today, I see a broken world, full of nursing homes with beautiful parents who have no one to take care of them, because we have somehow gotten to a stage where it’s just too hard. When I look to my past, my grand mother was 97 when she passed away, spending only the last 3 months in a hospital and every moment from when she was 70, living with her eldest son and his family. I love that. Don’t get me wrong, there are other circumstances that lead to our elderly being in caring homes, please don’t read this the wrong way. My point is just the vast amount of nursing homes we seem to have and how society doesn’t seem to support multi generational living.

Today, it is somewhat expected that when a teenager turns 14, that they will separate from you and ‘turn’, so to speak. But history has shown us generations of children growing up, respecting their fathers, grandparents, mothers and so on, for all the hard work they do, and how much they loved their children.

If you home-school, you are keeping your family close. You will of course, have a wide circle of friends, but your child will sense that their family is the main influence in their lives. I have some some wonderful families keep their family’s influence over the children even with school. I absolutely commend these families and wish they would write a book. But as society values the young, as we push our children from one activity/school/after school activity to another, as we focus more on academics rather than family fun times and warmth with in the family… we will continue to lose these children.

If our children do not get the fun times, warm love and happy days from us, they will get it from their peers. And this is when the influence changes.

So thank you to all you wonderful people, homeschooling your children, and creating a better society as we bring the focus of our children’s influence back to love, acceptance and boundaries.

I have to stop typing now as my one hand and my neck are very sore!!!!!

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