I am sitting in the back of a room at a local non-profit -- observing a break-out session with parents of troubled kids. John is leading the session. He is 20 years old.
A father raises his hand and says, “My boy wants to play basketball all day. He doesn’t go to school. I can’t get him to do anything.”
“Take the basketball away from him.” John responds with a firm tone. “But keep the basketball hoop up so he can see it when he walks by,” John finishes with a grin.
A low laughter erupts. The father says, “Thanks. I’ll do it.”
A mother tells John how her son goes to school, but will not do his homework and is failing. “All he wants to do is play his Nintendo and be with his so-called friends,” she says with frustration.
“Go to the school every day, sit in his classes, make him feel uncomfortable -- raise the ante,” John exclaims.
Like a crescendo in a musical score, John increases his volume and with a commanding tone says, “Tell him you will make his life uncomfortable until he does right at school and home.” Staring at the mother he says, “And take away that Nintendo!”
Again, the crowd erupts in approving laughter. The mother nods in agreement.
John offers parting advice. “You are not a friend to your kid. You are his parent. Be in his business every day. Know his friends. He won’t like you at times-and that is the difference between a parent and a friend.”
How does a 20 year old know what to tell these parents? He sounded like my mother-and the research agrees with him.
For example, we know that adolescents whose parents are authoritative (responsive and demanding) are less swayed by peer pressure to misbehave than are adolescents whose parents are permissive. Adolescents from demanding and responsive homes are more susceptible to pro-social peer pressure, such as pressure to do well in school, but less susceptible to anti-social pressure, such as efforts to make them use illicit drugs and alcohol).
This is so important in the work of rehabilitating delinquent youth. A leading cause of delinquent conduct is peer influence. The first task of any probation officer must be to identify anti-social peers and break-up that peer network. Parents play a major role too. They must be demanding and responsive.
Everyone has a role to play. Permissive parents must be injected with clinical type services such as MST or Functional Family Therapy. The Judge must be adamant -- successfully participate or be punished!
The probation officer must be vigilant of the kid’s peer contacts. The kid must be told which friends are forbidden. He must be told no contact or they will be brought into court with their parents and ordered to stay away. The latter is a kiss of death for any kid -- and believe me -- it works!
John was raised by his grandmother. She made him go to school, study, and make good grades. She nurtured and watched over him. She knew his friends and made sure they were good for him. He had a curfew. She was demanding and responsive -- she was his warden.
One day John’s mother showed up and “snatched” him away. She missed him. She wanted to be his mother -- but she wasn’t equipped like his grandmother.
Her live-in boyfriend beat her. John witnessed this for four years.
He escaped by finding friends -- and they were not the friends grandma would approve. They were gangbangers, smoking pot, enjoying sex, and carrying guns.
It wasn’t long before John was in trouble -- for possessing pot, carrying a gun, and you guessed it -- he became a teenage father.
John says he straightened up when he saw his child for the first time. He works to support his child. Some of this work includes teaching at the non-profit.
John knows what a demanding parent can do for a child. He also knows what a permissive parent can’t do. John has a story to tell permissive parents.
John credits his newborn with changing his ways. I know better -- it was his grandmother. John already possessed the foundation to do good because his grandmother was demanding and responsive. His child was merely a catalyst that returned him to his original path-the one his grandmother paved.
John has a lesson for us doing this work -- fixing a kid may mean fixing a parent too. It also begs the question how important intervention may be in the lives of children zero to three, but that’s another story-for another day.
John taught me that demanding parents can buffer their kids from poor influences -- a key to prevention and rehabilitation. A demanding parent may create an angry child, but it’s worth the pain to prevent a scary kid!