Modern parents have lost the ability to stand up to their demanding kids. Damian Whitworth reports on how tough love is sometimes the best option

No. One of the shortest, easiest, most used words in the English language. It can also be one of the hardest to utter in any meaningful way — particularly if you are a modern parent.
Those who work with children believe that a generation of parents have forgotten how to say no, with the result that as their children grow up they lack the self-control needed to negotiate adult life successfully.

“Children need to have the experience of an adult saying no,” says Jane Cassidy, a child/adolescent psychotherapist. “If you always give in, they don’t learn that somebody can stay firm, so when they become young teenagers and adults they don’t have the capability to say no to themselves when they are under peer pressure in terms of drugs, delinquency or sex.”

The problem, teachers, psychologists and parents agree, is that when it comes to discipline, parents are hopelessly ill-disciplined. They tell their children that they should not do something or cannot have something that they want, but cave in to the child’s protests.

Dr Tanya Byron, clinical psychologist and newspaper columnist, says that dealing with this issue has become “the spine of my clinic. The majority of people I see really can’t say no to their children or can’t set boundaries. They can’t follow through to a consequence after saying no. Children don’t have a sense of who is in charge so they take charge themselves.”

The effect of parental ineffectiveness is all too obvious in society — nowhere more so than in schools. One school principal I spoke to, Dr Fiona Hammans, had no doubts about where many of the school’s discipline problems originated.

“You’ve got a generation of parents that does not believe in punishing their kids,” says Hammans. “They say ‘you’re grounded for a year’. And the kid cries and then they say ‘Oh all right, then!’ A whole lot of parents don’t know how to control their kids. The kids are in charge.”

Byron concurs, saying that our collective failure with the ‘no’ word is a “huge change” from the situation when she first started working in the field 18 years ago. One of the chief reasons for this change, she believes, is that in the hurly-burly of the modern world we don’t want to spend what precious time we have with our children acting tough.

“We are very busy. In a lot of families where there are two parents, both work and they don’t want to come home at night and have to tell the children what to do. Or they are too bloody knackered to follow through with the discipline and so say ‘fine, do that, eat that’.”

Byron believes that the increasing isolation of parents is a crucial factor in how control over children has eroded. “Extended families don’t exist in the way that they used to and so many parents lack the wisdom and support of the older generation.”

She also believes that parents feel under pressure to be seen to be raising well-behaved kids. “Parents are anxious not to be seen with unhappy children, so they negotiate and cajole in any way possible to avoid tantrums.”

Then there is the modern, highly risky need to be friends with our children. I recently received the following email lament from a friend, a mother of two. “Parents have this warped view of parenting,” she wrote. “They don’t really want to be parents. They want to be down with their kids, to be popular with them. That’s why you see parents dressing the same as kids.

“I am forever seeing families in Wagamama, boy-and-dad in boardshorts, Converse-and-logo t-shirts, mum-and-girl in combats, Crocs-and-logo t-shirts. The thinking has to be: ‘We are too young and with it to be bossy authority figures, aren’t we? Better to be MATES with the kids and listen to the same music and watch Doctor Who together or fight over the PlayStation.’

“I am surrounded by people who seem to treat parenting as a popularity contest. The thought of their child disliking them, however briefly, is very frightening.”

Cassidy agrees: “Sometimes you have to get to the point where you say ‘because I told you so and I’m daddy and that’s just the way it is’. You can take time to explain but they have to understand that when you say no, you mean no.”

Or as a friend who is a child psychologist likes to put it: “No negotiation with terrorists.”

Byron suggests that where many parents go wrong is in their attitude to dealing with unruly behaviour: “It’s not about discipline, it’s about respect. Parents don’t want their kids to hit but they smack them, which I think is bonkers.

“They don’t want them to shout or scream, but they shout or scream at them. We should be role models.”

Cassidy says that it is unhelpful for parents to think that there is a right or a wrong way of doing things. “I try to talk to parents about what their instinctive sense of parenting is.

“They need to have a confidence in themselves and their own sense of authority. If there was a totally right way, there would only be one book, there wouldn’t be hundreds and hundreds of books. We are all different.”

These are encouraging words for parents.

The ‘yes’ generation should be able to learn to say ‘no’ again.

But as any parent knows, it’s not what you say, but the way that you say it. And say it. And say it. And say it . . .

‘I’m not a harsh mother, but I won’t accept disrespect’

Mandy Welch has always loved her two girls: Charmaine (8) and Alannah (5). A single mum, her life has revolved around them.

Sometimes, though, love is not enough.”I used to spend all the time at home with the girls,” says Mandy (27). “I’d have the TV on all day. I’d let the children play in the bedroom, then I’d go in and clean up after them.”

Mandy’s mum, Pauline, worried about her daughter. She felt she needed to get out a bit, and to cut down on all that TV.

So two years ago she moved into Mandy’s life for the RTE programme Mother Knows Best.

During that intensive week, she encouraged Mandy to take a part-time job; to make time for herself, and to do more exciting things with the children.

The experience changed Mandy’s life forever.

“Life is hard when you have to be mummy and daddy.

“The girls used to push me all the time. Nowadays, I take them out a lot more. We have fun. They are more laid-back, and they are much better behaved.

“I do have to say ‘no’ to the children a lot. I’m not a harsh mother, but I won’t accept disrespect. Charmaine sometimes brings on the attitude.

“She wants to hang around with older girls, and that is not going to happen.

“Charmaine says, ‘can I go out for a few hours?’ and I always say ‘no’. I encourage her to mix with girls her own age, and to stay around where I can see her.

“The girls now have to tidy their own room, and they will do it. They only watch cartoons on TV if it is raining.

“Otherwise they read, or do drawings. They are allowed to watch TV for half an hour at bedtime, but that’s it.

“They go to bed at 7pm, because the evening is adult time. They do give me cheek sometimes. Charmaine will say, ‘no, I am not doing that,’ and I say, ‘hang on, what did you say?’ I turn it around and say ‘no’ back to her.

When was the last time you said “no” to your child?

“Rose dropped her school bag on the ground so she could use her skipping rope.

“When it came to leave the playground, she said, ‘pick up my school bag’. I said no.

“If she’d said please, I might have considered it!”

— Angela, 35, mother of Rose, aged 5.”Yesterday, he tried to avoid going to after-school club by pretending to be ill. I had to make him go,”

— Rebecca, single mum, 27, on her six-year-old son.

“I said no to the puppy.

But somehow that was translated as a yes.”

— Ben, 43, father of three. And a new dog owner.

“Last week at the cinema, Sam, who’s 8, demanded a sack of M&Ms.

“When I said no, he started screaming and refused to leave the cinema. To my shame I caved in.” — John, 43, divorced father of three.

‘The problem stays with us as adults’

In modern workplaces, where there are no problems, only opportunities, the words we want to hear must be relentlessly positive affirmations of our general superbness.

Saying “no”, or even being lukewarm, is tantamount to corporate thought crime. It’s evident in our conversations, which are blighted by superlative inflation: instead of saying “fine” or “good”, we say “excellent” and “fantastic”.

We’re all desperate to sing from the same hymn sheet, even if the song is nonsense. Corporate “yessing” follows us home, too: if we absolutely must go on a holiday, we will take our BlackBerries, just in case someone wants us to agree with them from the other side of the globe. But this “yessing” makes us less productive.

Meetings are characterised by everyone agreeing with everyone else (after all, you don’t want to be the only one who questions your boss’s “brilliant” idea) so even the most ludicrous ideas get rubber-stamped. There’s no little boy pointing at the emperor’s clothes. Which is how we end up with things such as the Red Cow Roundabout.

Source: The Irish Independant—just-say-no-1059022.html