The biggest problems facing youth

By Angela Bennett

What are the biggest problems facing youth today? We could start with the age-old alcohol, drugs and relationships, then move on to more recent developments such as Bebo, MySpace, texts, emails and the entire internet which all pose potential hazards such as bullying, stalking and abduction.

Strangely enough all of these potential minefields, which in themselves can cause further problems such as low self-esteem, learning difficulties and loneliness, are helped or hindered by our parenting.

Therefore you could say the biggest problems facing youth boil down to two things – over- and under-parenting.

Most modern parents can never decide whether they are over-parenting or under-parenting. We are so busy, so concerned and so anxious that we’re usually doing both at once.


I’m not talking about outright neglect in this instance, although we have an alarmingly high incidence of that in our country. I’m talking about parents who give their children perfectly adequate care but don’t spend enough time or the right kind of time with their children.

Dr Marilyn Heins, MD FAAP says when good parents don’t spend enough time or the right kind of time with their children, the consequences can be most serious.

She breaks it down to age relevant examples.

First she says that some parents fail to stimulate the young infant. “These parents may provide the physical care so their baby is fed, changed, bathed, etc. But the parents think that their baby belongs in her cot all other times.

“These parents do not talk to the baby or sing or play little games. In order for a baby to learn language he or she needs plenty of face-to-face contact with loving parents who talk almost continuously.”

Dr Heins explains that some parents don’t realise they should start this process of interaction at birth because even newborns need to be stimulated. “Some parents don’t understand the importance of talking in an animated, excited way with exaggerated facial expressions. Other parents don’t realise they should talk during the time they are interacting with their baby, naming objects and telling her what they are doing.

She says this failure is often seen in very young mothers, especially those who are single and lack support people to show them how to do it.

Next she explains that some parents fail to play with their children. “Babies and toddlers need to be shown how to play. Many parents supply the toys but never get down on the floor to play with their child. Some parents are too busy but many, again, simply don’t know they are supposed to do this.

Another big area of under-parenting is parents failing to read to their children. Dr Heins says, “If you want your child to succeed at school reading is the key. If you want your child to learn how to read, you must read to the child. How often? Every day. How much? Even 15 minutes a day will give the message that reading is important.”

During school-age years some parents fail to pay attention to their child’s school-work. “Parents today seem to think that once the child is in school education is the teacher’s job. Wrong! A child’s education is dependent on the partnership between school and home.”

The last area where parents are under-parenting is in failing to give their child a sense of the future. “All children need to feel comfortable about themselves and feel they have a future. Those children who do not feel connected to other human beings and who don’t feel there is a future are the children who get into trouble.”


For many years aspects of under-parenting were perhaps the biggest problems facing children, but recently another type of parenting has emerged that can be detrimental to children’s healthy development – that is the trend by many of the current generation of parents to over-parent their children.

Parent coach Michael Grose says over-parenting occurs when parents solve children’s problems rather than giving them the chance to overcome problems themselves. It occurs when parents allow children to avoid legitimately challenging situations so they won’t be inconvenienced. It also occurs, he says, when too much control or too much order is imposed on children.

“Over-parenting is predominantly a mindset. It is a belief that children can’t overcome difficulties themselves and they can’t cope with discomfort or disappointment. It comes with increased affluence but it can occur in any socio-economic group.”

Grose explains that an over-parented child is a protected, spoiled child.

Dr Michael Ungar, author of Too Safe for their Own Good, explains another aspect of over-parenting. He writes, “Our children are safer physically than at any time in history. Yet without some risk they can’t learn responsibility, and by bubblewrapping them from harm we are instead driving them into trying ever more dangerous behaviour.”

Dr Ungar believes we are creating an entirely new set of problems for children: “anxiety disorders are increasing among children, showing up in both children and young adults who are ill-prepared for the challenges of independent living, university, or work; obesity among children is reaching epidemic proportions along with Type II diabetes and threats of shortened lifespans, largely the result of children being driven everywhere and coddled in structured activities that don’t provide nearly enough exercise; and we are forcing some of our most-loved children to find adventure in the only way they can, through reckless self-endangerment, all in an effort to find the rush that comes with feeling a little older and a little more responsible for their own bodies and minds.”

So how can a parent break from a pattern of over-parenting? Michael Grose says this can be hard because over-parenting can seem normal.

Although not recommended, for obvious reasons, he says, “Parental illness is one way to change over-parenting. When a parent is incapacitated or sick for a lengthy period of time children generally have no choice but to fend for themselves in a whole range of ways. From my observation of families I am constantly amazed how children rise to a challenge when they have to.”

Another way to kick the over-parenting habit is to do so by stealth. “Little by little parents need to pull back on the over-assistance that they provide children. They can start by insisting children walk to school (provided this is reasonable from the perspective of safety); get themselves up each morning or other simple forms of self-help as required. When a new behaviour becomes the norm rather than the exception then it is best to look for another area to withdraw their assistance from.”

It is hard to get the balance right between developing real independence and not placing too much responsibility on children. Effective parenting is a balancing act between the head and the heart, between providing opportunities for resourcefulness and showing compassion, and between being a supportive parent and a protective parent.

Try to provide your children with the same opportunities we had to experience enough risk and responsibility to become competent, caring adults.

Give your children quality interaction every day, even if you are busy and it is just for a short time


Tips to help parents avoid under- and over-parenting:

How to avoid under-parenting:

· Stimulate young children. Talk to your baby, sing or play little games

· Get down on the floor and play with your child

· Read to your child from when they are a baby until they are reading expertly by themselves

· Pay attention to your child’s school-work. Develop a good partnership between home and school

· Give your children quality interaction every day, even if you are busy and it is just for a short time

· If you are very busy ask relatives, siblings and child care workers to help with some of the above ideas so that your child doesn’t miss out

How to avoid over-parenting

· Bear in mind that circumstances such as family breakdown or a change of circumstances can lead to feelings of guilt and over-parenting or overprotection can occur. This doesn’t do the child any favours in the long term

· Slowly pull back on the assistance you provide your children

· Start insisting that they do things for themselves such as organising their sports gear and walking to school

· Give children ideas, tips and techniques to cope with their challenges rather than allowing them to avoid or pull out of a challenge

· Adopt a ‘teach and support’ style of parenting rather than a ‘protect or compensate’ method

· Be wise enough to know when children need your help and compassionate enough to lend a hand once in a while

· Try to provide your children with the same opportunities we had to experience enough risk and responsibility to become competent, caring adults

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