Anybody who has worked in a residential school or program for troubled or struggling teens is in a good place to observe the end product of various types of parenting. That is, he/she is in a good place to reflect on what happened that might have caused the child to need residential placement. In my 25 years of working in this field, I’ve come to some tentative conclusions regarding how parenting style might have contributed to the damage that helped create a need for residential placement.
First, despite numerous laws, wide spread discussions and campaigns, and a national revulsion against child abuse, I have rarely seen children in a school or program who have been downright abused by their parents. Perhaps my conclusion would be different if I didn’t work with private parent choice schools and programs and instead worked with public institutions that take children no matter what the parents might want, if there are even any parents involved in the child’s life.
More frequently I have seen situations that might be called benign neglect. An example might be a parent who is too busy to spend a Saturday afternoon with their child, so give them their platinum credit card to go to the mall. Technically this might be considered neglect, but not the kind of neglect we usually read about in the news media of children living in squalid conditions. Sometimes these parents are simply self centered, but more often they are so focused on being providers or maintaining the family name that the result, even with the parent’s best intentions, is a child crying out for attention and affection.
However, the most common cause of damage I’ve seen in my 25 years working in and with emotional growth and therapeutic boarding schools and programs has been permissive parenting. These often are parents who have bought into the ideals of a democratic family, or the self-esteem movement that warned parents that using “No” would damage their child’s confidence, or some extreme form of children’s rights. In a way I sympathize with these parents because often they work very hard at their parenting. They usually are carrying out the advice of popular so-called child care “experts.” However, as I’ve often seen, permissive parenting in giving too much freedom to children too soon can be damaging, and is probably one of the most common factors leading to residential placement.
I ran across an interesting article recently that explains very clearly why giving children too much freedom could hurt the child. Titled “Permissive Parenting Too Much Freedom Could Hurt Your Child,” it lists three possible conclusions a child might come to from having too much freedom, all harmful to a child’s future. 1) The child might conclude he/she can do anything they want with no limits. 2) the child might conclude the parent is compliant and decide to abuse the parent. And, 3) the child might conclude the parent is indifferent to him/her and don’t care what the child does.
In all three cases, the child is the real loser, but often the parents also. I’ve had parents sit in my office bewildered by the behaviors of their child and exclaiming that they did everything for him/her, and just can’t understand why the child seems to hate them.
Its because permissive parenting doesn’t give the child what the child needs!