In today's episode of Understanding Your Parenting Style, we look at the permissive parent. In this style of parenting we might hear things like: "no problem, okay, see you whenever, sure, have fun, love you."This all sounds so nice, so loving, so calm, where's the problem in that? Here is the problem, the teen in this situation is not required to think, to assess, to plan, to be responsible to anyone but him/herself. Adolescence by nature and definition is all about self-centeredness. We know that a certain amount of this self-centeredness is natural and normal, but if we add to it, by not presenting alternative perspectives we create narcissistic adults, as in "I want what I want when I want it!" More importantly these teens are often engaged in dangerous and risky behavior because they live in a world with no boundaries. Expectations from parents may be inconsistent or non-existent. For example I often work with parents when their teen's behavior has become out of control. In many of these families there are high expectations when it comes to academic performance by no expectations around behavior. So kids "get" that if they do well in school, the rest of their life will be free from restraint. It is an unspoken quid pro quo.
Here is what I think contributes to parent permissiveness. Many of us hate hate hate conflict. We will go to any extreme to avoid argument and disagreement. So rather than say "no" or "we need to discuss this" or "I need to hear your plan before I make a decision" this parent goes right to the sure, love you place. Parenting an adolescence requires conflict, welcomes conflict, and invites conflict. This is how we make our teens use their new developing brain to learn how to make decisions. We disagree, we argue, we force them to think, to weigh options, to plan and to decide. So if you are uncomfortable with conflict, learn to wallow in. The worst that can happen is that your teen might momentarily hate you. But they' will get over it, and when they become young adults will thank you for helping them to become thoughtful and responsible people.
Additionally the conflict-avoiders also to to be the kinds of parents who want their teens and their teens friends to think of them as the cool parents. They want their kids to want to hang out with them, and to use their house as "the house". This often means turning a blind eye to situations that other parents aren't comfortable with like "sex, drugs and rock and roll." The permissive parent's house tends to become the "safe house" for their kids and kid's friends. Let me just say that you can still have a great relationship with your kid and kid's friends without being an enabler. Your primary job is to be the bouncer not the party host, and I mean that both literally and figuratively.
Another contributing factor in permissive parenting is allowing our own needs and wants to take priority. I have a very vivid memory of being out to a lovely restaurant with my husband. We were seated next to a group that consisted of two couples and their collective four children. The couples were enjoying their cocktails and conversation with each other leaving their young kids to fend for themselves. The kids, bored at this fancy restaurant entertained themselves by kicking our booth, and throwing over napkins and food. The parents were oblivious to it all until management changed our table, and my wonderful husband gave them "a little feedback on parenting." Though this story is about younger children, fast-forward to this family 5 years later. Parents still have a busy work and social life, and are excited now that their kids are teens they can leave them to their own devices, no babysitters needed. These teens are often left unsupervised for evenings, maybe even weekends while parents attend to whatever it is they want or need to do. Without sounding preachy here, OK I am preaching here, parenting does require sacrifice. So many parents I know spend most weekend nights babysitting their home, not their kids. They "get" that though their kids don't need babysitters anymore, their house does. Leaving an empty house is a public invitation to party. Also when you are available to your kids, it makes them feel secure that if they need you, they can have you. Teens need to feel that they are still your first priority, and that you are always looking out for their safety and well-being.
Stay tuned for part 3: The authoritative parent.