Written by: Cally Worden
Our children may be our future, but at what point should we start to give them the power to change the world? There has been a distinct shift in attitudes in recent decades that has led to child-centric behaviour being found all over the place. Parents treat their kids like mini-adults, offering choices and setting their expectations of the world sky high. Whether this gives our kids an edge, or sets them up for a fall, are we empowering kid’s too much?
Where are we Coming From?
Many parents today grew up in a world that was more subdued, and where kids were still expected to take a more minor role in family life. Not quite ‘seen and not heard’, our society outgrew that many years ago. But certainly as a child in the ’70s I can remember knowing very firmly my place in the family pecking order. And that was okay. Yet many parents today want to give their kids greater freedoms and a more active role in decisions that affect the family and their lives.
Where do we want to Go?
As parents we all want to raise kids who are ready, willing and able to make competent, independent decisions, and possess a well developed ability to problem-solve. In order to achieve this, it is necessary for children to be offered the opportunity to make choices and to experience both success AND failure. They then need to be shown how to learn from mistakes and, crucially, learn to accept the responsibilities that come with the decision-making process. The question is ‘How Far do we Take This?’
The ‘Empowerment is Good!’ Camp
Those who wholeheartedly support the empowerment of our kids believe that in giving our children a voice we are preparing them to meet the challenges of life head-on. By not allowing this freedom of expression, the Empowerment Camp see that we are suppressing the natural exuberance of children and depriving them of a prime opportunity to learn the skills necessary to navigate their way through the world successfully.
Early-learning on how to make informed choices, express feelings and opinions and respect those of others, is thought to provide a solid grounding on which our kids can grow and develop. Supporters of this approach say that giving kids the power encourages them to use it to the wider benefit of themselves, their families, and society in general.
The ‘Too Much of a Good Thing’ Camp
I confess I am a little sceptical and my thoughts err towards this end of the empowerment argument. Your average child is fairly self-centred. It’s what kids are designed to do – look after number one, and if someone else suffers as a result they are unlikely to even be aware, let alone bothered.
I’m all for allowing my kids to be free and able to express themselves, but I can see how too much power in the hands of fragile and under-developed egos can be a bad thing. Life has a structure. Most adults do not experience the degree of personal empowerment that they would naturally desire. In giving our kids too much power too soon, there is a danger we are setting them up for disappointment later. It is a fine line between empowerment and entitlement.
The Famous Middle-Ground
As in any argument of this type, the middle-ground seems to be a good place to rest. We can give our kids a healthy boost to their self-esteem with a degree of empowerment, but at the same time show them where the boundaries lie. They need to learn also to respect the decisions and viewpoints of others, and how to blend into a society where the views of everyone matter, but where only some can succeed. A simple and effective way to do this from a young age to provide children with simple but limited choices that help them to feel their opinion matters, without making them assume too much responsibility too young . ‘Would you like to wear the red shirt or the blue shirt today?’ or for older kids ‘Would you prefer to wash-up, or clear the table?’, for example.
What approach to you take with your kids? Are you an empowering parent, or do you prefer to exercise a little more restraint when allowing your kids to make choices? We’d be interested to know.