Who is responsible for our troubled youth?

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By Sabrina Almeida

Is it the education system, society, technology or just us parents? Does it really take a village to raise a responsible and well-balanced human being, or just the family?

Someone has to take responsibility for the suicides, terror attacks, mass killings, DUI and a whole lot more. And it’s not the government!

As parent of a 20-something and a teenager, I’m deeply troubled each time news of a young death breaks. Today it was a tween from Brampton who was in a stolen minivan being driven by a 14-year-old boy  and the two 19-year-old men responsible for a deadly attack on a French church .

As we discussed it in the office, the first thought went to the Brampton girl’s parents. The initial sympathy was soon overshadowed by aspersions of negligence! Was it really the parents’ fault… and of what consequence is it now that a young life has been cut short and the other one has changed forever?

What are we doing differently than our parents that is causing so many of our youth to go over the edge?

Are we giving them too much or too little?

The answer to both those questions might be affirmative. Plying them with possessions doesn’t make up for lack of time and attention. Neither does constant monitoring.

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Living in the Western world where so much emphasis is placed on a child’s privacy, respect and self-monitoring capabilities, it’s obvious that this formula is not working. The complaint (or justification) of many youth who have fallen off the tracks often is that they were left to their own devices. More parental engagement and interaction might have helped keep them on the straight and narrow. This means you should be asking questions.

I understand what they mean. Even though I rarely strayed, I can now admit that when temptation came my way, it was the fear of my parents that helped me beat it. While they were not tyrannical or overbearing, they didn’t hesitate to lay down the law and ensure it was followed. They were my parents then and are now my friends. I have adopted their approach—being a parent first and a friend later. You can’t be both, as in my opinion, it confuses the child.

A Jamaican friend who was sharing her experience with me echoed my sentiments. She believed that for black youth to turn their lives around they need strong parents, especially fathers. She felt that while she didn’t have the perfect father, the fact that he was always around and enforced discipline, had a positive impact on the lives of all his kids.

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While I’m no psychologist, it is my observation that a laissez-faire child rearing approach is rarely an effective one. Of course there are always exceptions… but that’s what makes them different and not the norm.

Yes, children were up to no good in India too, but when our parents weren’t around, it was the elders in the neighbourhood that kept us in check. I can’t see that happening here. Oh no, even I start to scowl when someone admonishes my kids.

However, some psychologists believe that helicopter parenting might be responsible for our kids’ inability to make responsible decisions. We’re always hovering around…waiting to catch them before they fall, providing detailed turn-by-turn instructions to prevent even the smallest mistakes. This robs children of the life experience of figuring out that there is a consequence for every action the hard way rather than by just taking our word for it.

We have the perfect life mapped out for them. Who they should befriend and later marry. Which academic stream and profession they should choose to quickly achieve fame and fortune.

I’m guilty of it too!

While our intentions are certainly noble, they do have an ugly flipside that we often refuse to acknowledge. We are robbing our kids of life skills and turning them into inept and insecure adults.

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Aren’t we we making them dependent rather than self-reliant?

It’s one of the reasons why so many South Asian marriages are tethering—too much parental influence. We are unable to set our children free to live their own lives.

A recent study which suggested that a boss-employee relationship is influenced by that of the employee and his/her parents offers plenty to think about. In addition to personal relationships, we’re affecting their professional ones too.

And when boxed-in, they either look for an escape or rebel–alcoholism, drug addiction, promiscuity, suicide and now radicalization are the consequence.

It is difficult to acknowledge that we might be steering our kids towards rebellion and failure rather than success. But if we really care for them, we must.

Who said parenting was easy? Just ask yours! And with each child it’s like starting all over again—with no qualifications or experience.

To raise perfect kids, we must be perfect ourselves. It’s time to look inwards and stop blaming society, technology, media and everything else!

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