"Not My Child" Syndrome
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time to change the "Not My Child"
It's time to
change the 'not my child' syndrome
We all want to believe that our children are making good choices, but the fact is theyre kids and theyre going to make errors in judgment. Thats one of the reasons they have parents, to parent and guide. Parents need to be paying attention to what their children are doing online, to teach safe, appropriate and responsible online behavior. They need to parent online just as they do offline.
Kids are participating in risky behaviors online. Some statistics include:
Many of the horrific incidents,
including cyberbullying, could be prevented if parents knew
what their children were doing online and were intervening
when necessary. When kids know that mom or dad is watching
what they are doing online, kids are more likely to exhibit
appropriate, safe and responsible behavior. When a child is
not behaving appropriately online, then parents who are
keeping an eye on the activity are able to intervene and
teach what is acceptable behavior online.
My Kid Syndrome
Its not my kid, but I have heard
My kid doesnt do drugs, but he is being pressured to by other people in his class. What should we do?
Of course, this is the mom of the child who, unbeknownst to her, is dealing weed to all of the kids in the grade.
The Not My Kid Syndrome is a particularly dangerous attitude for parents to have. Here is why:
1) It is often wrong I often say at the Parent Association meetings, The people in this room, are often the people who do not need to be here. Parents who keep their eyes and hearts open often have kids who really are not doing it (whether that is drugs, sex, porn ). It is the parents who do not show up at the meetings because they think they do not need to, or the mother who raises her hand saying it is not her kid who invariably has the cause of the problem. I have seen this over one hundred times with parents I work with and it is very sad.
2) It encourages judgment and closes communication Lets say you have the Not My Kid syndrome and your kid really isnt doing whatever it is you say they are not. The problem is still that this attitude encourages judgment. When you talk to your kid or your friends about the awful thing your kid isnt doing you are closing all lines of communication for your kid or friends to talk to you about it. Your kid might not be doing it now, but they might do it later and you want them to talk to you about it.
3) It shifts the focus to the parent Of course, kids actions do reflect somewhat on the parent, but when a parent insists to other parents or their own child that it is not my kid it puts the focus on you and your parenting skills, as opposed to focusing on what your kid is going through.
4) It makes a grey issue black and white Many times it is not as simple as my kid is doing it or not doing it. A kid might not be smoking pot, but they might be at parties surrounded by pot in questionable neighborhoods. Your daughter might not be having sex, but she might be having promiscuous, unprotected oral sex at parties. Or, less extreme, just wearing very low shirts and using her sexuality inappropriately at school. True she is not doing it, but there are still other things around this issue going on. Parents with the not my kid attitude often close their mind to the other grey issues around the big one.
I know it is scary to think about your
kid doing anything dangerous or inappropriate, but keeping
an open mind to talking to them about it and not feeling
like a bad parent if they are doing
it is extremely important to their healthy development
and your relationship.
Many parents don't think their kids are interested in sex, but believe that everyone else's kids are, a new study reveals.
"Parents I interviewed had a very hard time thinking about their own teen children as sexually desiring subjects," said study researcher Sinikka Elliott, an assistant professor of sociology at North Carolina State University. "At the same time, parents view their teens' peers as highly sexual, even sexually predatory."
These disillusioned parents are factually wrong, as there were 435,436 births to teens aged 15 to 19 in 2006, and 6,396 for those aged 10 to 14, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And the dual thinking about teenage sex has its own consequences. By viewing their own children as holier-than-thou, parents shift the responsibility for potential sexual activity to others.
If little Janie somehow gets pregnant, mom or dad might say she was pushed into it, the thinking goes.
Elliott interviewed 47 parents of teenagers, including six fathers and the rest moms. Interviews, which lasted from one to 2.5 hours, included various questions about parents' beliefs and experiences regarding teen sex. Questions about sexuality focused on what parents teach their children about sex and the dynamics of those discussions, including: why parents say what they say; how they feel about talking to teens about sex; and what they think of teen sexuality.
Parents consistently characterized their children as young, immature and naïve.
For instance one mother, 52-year-old Beatrice (white, lower middle class) commented on her 16-year-old daughter, saying, "One thing I've noticed is that she's probably a little bit more immature than some of her friends, and that's okay, I think it will come."
Even though Elliott interviewed many more moms than dads, she found fathers similarly viewed their daughters as immature.
Another mother, Beth, 39 (white, upper middle class), believed her son, 16, was a virgin because that's what he told her, and he hadn't dated. This mother added, "When you look at your child, they're just so little and young. You just don't think of them ever even thinking about [sex]. It's hard to even think about what you should be saying to kids. You don't think they are old enough when you think about those things."
Speaking of her 14-year-old son, one mom (Kate) said, "I don't think it's safe for his age. Maybe it's just him, I don't know. But he's a little naive."
As for why she didn't think it would be safe, Kate said, "I guess, [that] he'd do something he didn't want to do. Get pushed into something or let himself be pushed into something. I think he would definitely do that. 'I'm not going to be cool if I dont do this.'"
Essentially, these parents considered their teens as sexually innocent, and even asexual, Elliott said.
Another theme that came up was the association between teen sex and deviance.
Portia, 46 (Latina, upper middle class), discussed her shock when her then 15-year-old son said his girlfriend might be pregnant: "Because he was such a young teenager and I really didnt think. And again, this is a really good, solid kid," she said. Since then, Portia has not discussed contraceptionwith her now 16-year-old and doesn't plan to until he's off to college, because "he's just a good kid who got in over his head."
Parents seemed to have no trouble envisioning other people's teens as having sex, however, saying their teens' peers were "real sexual," and "promiscuous." One parent said, "[Teenagers] got their cute little bodies and their raging hormones. They're like raring to go."
Some parents specifically contrasted their kids' lack of sexual desirewith peers' hedonistic tendencies.
"This binary thinking does more than simply establish their teens as asexual and, therefore, good; it also creates a scenario in which their teenagers are imperiled by their peers," Elliott writes in the May issue of the journal Symbolic Interaction.
For instance, parents of teenage boys often voiced concern that their sons might be lured into sexual situations by teenage girls who, the parents felt, might use sex in an effort to solidify a relationship. Meanwhile, parents of teen girls expressed fears that their daughters would be taken advantage of by sexually driven teenage boys.
These beliefs not only shift responsibility for any sexual activity away from such teens, they contribute to stereotypes of sexual behavior.
"By using sexual stereotypes to absolve their children of responsibility for sexual activity, the parents effectively reinforce those same stereotypes," Elliott said.
Furthermore, the stereotypes paint teen heterosexual relationships in an unflattering and hostile way.
"Although parents assume their kids
are heterosexual, they don't make heterosexual relationships
sound very appealing," Elliott said.
The "Not My
1) Some parents have a hard time moving past viewing their kids as innocent children.
Parents invest years in protecting their kids, controlling and monitoring activities, and trying to instill values.They want to believe that they've done a good job at parenting - and many have! They have a hard time coming to terms with their kids leaving childhood behind and starting to experience new levels of adult-like engagement with the world.
2) Kids mature differently.
Because there is no normal when it comes to adolescent development; no fixed template that all kids follow on the pathway to adulthood, parents aren't always aware of when adolescent changes are taking place. The development process, unique to each adolescent, can make it easier for parents to believe that their kid isn't "there yet" when it comes to typical adolescent interests and behaviors.
3) Not all kids engage in at-risk behaviors.
The simple fact is that not every teen has sex, drinks alcohol, takes drugs, views porn, drives like a maniac, and texts 100 times a day. These facts make it easy for parents to make a simple assumption that their kids are in the "NMK" category, whether they are or not. But in reality, while not all kids engage in at-risk behaviors, all kids think about them and are susceptible to temptations and peer pressure.
4) Parents are uncomfortable talking about tough issues. Most parent don't relish discussions with their teenagers on tough issues like dealing with peer pressure, sexuality, or drugs and alcohol. The hesitance to talk about these topics make it easier for parents to rationalize that their kids aren't ready or interested in these issues.
Rather than being a "NMK" parent, the
wise course of action is to prepare kids for the process of
adolescence and the pressures, challenges, and temptations
that accompany it. Talking to kids about these issues in an
atmosphere of acceptance and openness will help kids face
challenges when they arise. But parents who live this season
of life with a "Not My Kid" attitude actually put their kids
at greater risk of being hurt along the way.
I rearranged the picture frame of my family three times before the first parent ever sat down. I had never been on that side of the deskthe side the teacher sat on. But there I was, a first-year, middle school teacher, and I was about to lead my first parent-teacher conference. Terrified, but still excited, I began telling the parents how their child was an excellent reader, how she scored high above the standards set by the school district and how she excelled in math comprehension and problem solving. They nodded and held hands, smiling in delight. Then the conference turned to areas of improvement.
"As academically strong as your daughter is, she still shows a need to improve her socialization skills. At times, she has answered rudely to questions I have asked, as well as treat other students in a manner that is against the rules of the classroom," I said.
"What do you mean?" they asked, looking confused.
"Well, she has pushed two children on the playground and has had to sit out of recess once due to yelling inappropriately at another student," I answered.
What amazed me was what happened next and the words they chose to say in response: "Not our child. Our child would never do that."
I was stunned. They didn't believe me.
As teachers, we had to document every altercation and issue that came up in the classroom. So, I showed them my log. I showed them the dates and times the issues occurred. Yet still, looking straight into my eyes, they said again, "Our daughter would never do that. You must be confused."
It was at that moment that I realized there had been a shift in our overall educational outlook. Gone were the days where what the teacher said was taken as gospel, like when my mom would come home from a parent-teacher conference and not even ask my side of the story. She would simply tell me to stop passing notes to Jeanine Liscomb or else I'd lose my Walkman.
Now, teachers' words are doubted, questioned, and at times, simply dismissed with no basis or previous reason for doing so, other than not wanting to believe them.
I had never met those parents before, and our conference was only after four weeks of school. Yet, still, they had already decided I must be wrong.
The power of trust in our educational system has moved from teacher to student. And it's happening across all grade levels.
Kelsey Padgett, a former kindergarten teacher, felt frustrated by the lack of trust exhibited from some of her students' parents. One parent in particular wouldn't sign a behavioral statement because she didn't believe her child had hit another student. When Padgett explained that her son had already admitted he had done it, she turned to her son and said, "Did you do it?" The son shook his head "no," and the parent immediately replied, "See. He didn't do it. My son doesn't lie."
Padgett was confused by how these parents could believe a 5-year-old child over her stellar teaching record.
However, Eva Gording, a parent of two school-aged children, sees things differently, "I know my children better than anyone elseeven their teacher. As much as I appreciate all they are doing, it's my right to disagree and see things differently. I know what's best for their education."
But do they really? Have parents been trained in the state curriculums? Have they gone through a teacher certification program? Are they familiar with all the requirements and standards teachers experience every day in their occupation?
Teachers have gone through those rigorous requirements. And with all the pressure on them, they still want to see a child succeed, not bring them down. Bolton Carley, a middle school teacher, says: "If a teacher emails, calls, texts, or contacts you in any form because there's a problem, then there's a problem. No teacher has ever said, 'Oh, I want to deal with an angry parent today.' Teachers go into teaching to make a difference, not to torture your child."
So where do we go from here? How can we return to a world where parents trust teachers at their word?
Julia Gallo, a school social worker in New York, advises parents to take a different approach. "At times we see parents deny behaviors or discount reports from teachers and administrators and attempt to rescue their child from consequences. Even more often, parents will acknowledge the negative behaviors but will refuse to implement strategies and consequences at home for fear of being 'the bad guy.'"
She offers this suggestion to parents: "Getting a report that your child might be exhibiting some negative behaviors can be hard to hear for any parent. You might feel worried, frustrated or even a bit embarrassed. It's important to remember that every child can act differently at times to what you are teaching at home. The teacher understands this concept and is not there to judge you."
In the end, asking questions of your
child's teacher in order to understand a situation better is
something every parent should feel open to doing. But
believing the worst in them and exhibiting the
"Not-My-Child" Syndrome is simply closing a door to one of
the most important relationships you need to havethe
one between you and your child's teacher. And that's the
relationship that will truly pave the way to your child's
educational and personal well-being.
It's time to
change the 'not my child' syndrome
What? Havent heard of it at your local pediatricians office? This disorder is very specific. It targets parents who dont believe that their child the one they birthed and raised as their own could ever do the naughty things their teachers have said theyve done.
For example, I had a student in 7th grade who liked to run by girls in the hallway and smack their behinds while yelling, Gotch-ya. Yes, I kid you not. When I shared this information with the young mans parents, they looked at me completely baffled and proceeded to explain to me that their child would never do such a thing and that they have taught him to respect women and not act that way. Of course, I would then have to cite the many other examples of his behavior to prove my point, but always still that same reaction of disbelief and denial.
I often wondered if the effects of the not my child syndrome wore off by the time the parents got to the car. Did they then look at each other and say, Well maybe little Johnny did do that he does like to smack butts sometimes.
However, I never was privy to those conversations.
I would leave those parent-teacher conferences with a frustrating pit in my stomach. Where were the days of trusting what a teacher said? When did we start always believing the adolescent child rather than the educated teacher? Im not saying that every teacher is right all the time, however, I do think that parents are now challenging teachers words more than ever before.
When I was in the 5th grade, I loved to pass notes to my friends. Our teacher told us repeatedly not to do it, however gossip took precedence in my life over my education. One day I was caught by my teacher and she called my mother to tell her. My mother never questioned her, she simply said, Thank you, this will never happen again.
When I got home later that afternoon, I had a room emptied of my toys and a corner I had to sit in for quite some time.
I hope there are more of those parents
like my own, who trust their childs teacher and
understand that they are doing the best for them. I fear
that if the not my child syndrome continues, our
children will be the ones running the school, rather than