From the July/August 2020 issue of Discern Magazine

Most Common Parenting Fails and How to Avoid Them

Bad parenting is easy to fall into, but understanding five common parenting fails can help. These parenting tips show how to be a good parent.

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Every parent makes mistakes. That was true when Adam and Eve walked on earth, and it’s still true today. Whether our kids are preschoolers, teenagers or grown-ups, we can all reflect on what we did or didn’t do as parents and wish we’d done things differently.

Perhaps we lost our temper, showed favoritism to one child over another or didn’t follow through on our promises. Such common parenting fails have always been around.

Common parenting fails today

Certain parenting fails, however, have become particularly common in our modern culture.

“In many ways it’s a lot more challenging raising kids today, compared to a generation ago,” observes clinical psychologist Melissa Westendorf, J.D., Ph.D., cofounder of the Technology Wellness Center. “Things like all the new communication and entertainment technologies have made being a mom or dad a very different experience.”

Families can now indulge themselves with 24/7 entertainment through home theater systems, streaming services and video game consoles. Emails, text messaging and social media posts keep us distracted.

Mass media outlets bombard us with messages that suggest having more things and being physically attractive are essential to happiness. As a society, we’ve come to expect instant gratification and quick fixes, without deferment, hard work or discomfort. Many people see little purpose to life other than to enjoy themselves.

To one degree or another, most families have been influenced by these societal changes. It’s impacted how households function, and made moms and dads more susceptible to making particular kinds of parenting blunders.

Christian parenting

Biblically, it’s clear that God takes the role of parents very seriously. Christian parents are to raise children in the “training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). We are to “train up a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6), discipline our children in a loving manner (Proverbs 13:24), and provide for their needs (1 Timothy 5:8).

The truth is, most parenting blunders are preventable.While it’s inevitable we’ll make some mistakes, we must try to keep them to a minimum. To do so requires us to be more intentional about how we parent and to recognize what’s going on in society and how it’s affecting our families.

The truth is, most parenting blunders are preventable. That includes these five fails that are so common today:

1. Being present for children physically, without being emotionally attuned

Even when parents are home with their kids, they may not be fully present. Dad might spend his evenings web surfing on his laptop as he watches TV, while Mom busily messages her friends via social media or plays games on her phone.

Their kids, particularly younger children, may feel like they have to compete with screens for their parents’ attention, and become hurt or upset.

A related scenario is immediately grabbing your phone when you hear a “ding”—even if your child is talking with you. If this happens frequently, your kids may start thinking you’re more interested in text messages and social media notifications than you are in them.

“Children need to know they’re important to their parents and that their parents truly care about them,” Dr. Westendorf says. “They’re not going to have this kind of security if their parents continually tune them out, or only give them partial attention.”

This is not to say that children need your undivided attention all day long. We all have times when we have to make phone calls or do some focused work at the computer and cannot be disturbed. Kids need to be respectful of that.

Still, we shouldn’t be glued to our digital devices or allow our phones to interrupt our family time. (Along with this, we should avoid allowing our children to be so captive to their electronic devices that they ignore everything else.)

“Make sure you have some focused face time with your kids each day, where you’re not just physically present, but emotionally tuned-in as well,” urges Gary Hill, Ph.D., a marriage and family therapist in Northfield, Illinois.

“It sounds cliché, but children grow up very fast. You should make the most of the time you have with them—while they’re still kids.”

2. Applauding attributes rather than character

Many parents lavish their kids with praise and compliments, believing it will motivate them and boost their confidence. So they tell them: “You’re brilliant!” “You’re gorgeous!” “You have an awesome singing voice!” “You’re an amazing t-ball player!” But the fact is, these kinds of remarks can actually be harmful.

“When we praise our children for inherent traits over which they have no control, such as beauty, intelligence, or athleticism, they’ll assume they shouldn’t have to try hard,” writes Tim Elmore in 12 Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid (2014, p. 154).

Kids start thinking that their success is due to their innate abilities and therefore effort and hard work are not necessary. Moreover, continually praising kids’ natural talents and attributes can lead them to become arrogant and feel self-important.

“We begin cultivating kids who are preoccupied with themselves instead of secure enough to look outward and empathize with others,” states Dr. Elmore (ibid., p. 154).

Praising girls for their physical beauty reinforces what media and society tell them: that their appearance is their most important quality. Instead, they need to be taught that a person’s inner beauty (character) is what’s most important to God (1 Peter 3:4).

To be an effective form of encouragement, praise should primarily be directed at your children’s effort, perseverance, positive attitude and good behavior choices—not fixed, inborn qualities. This encourages them to work hard and reinforces strong moral character.

Telling them, “I’m impressed at how much time you put into preparing for the play,” means more than, “Wow, you’re a great actor!” It can be okay to acknowledge beauty or natural talents, but that shouldn’t be the focus of your praise.

3. Overindulging them

Too often we give kids what they should buy for themselves. We cave in and buy them the toys, electronic gadgets or designer clothes they’ve been begging for. Maybe we think we’ve fallen short as parents, so we try to make up for it by loading our children with gifts.

Some kids never have to wait and save up the money to get what they want. Some parents don’t even ask their kids to do household chores. These are big mistakes.

Studies have shown that giving children everything they want can foster an entitlement mentality and teach them to be materialistic and expect immediate gratification.

“Children need to understand what it means to work hard and make personal sacrifices to get what they want,” Dr. Hill says. “If everything’s always given to them, they won’t develop the incentive to work hard to achieve goals.”

You should provide for your children’s needs. But don’t finance all of their wants. Be selective about how many of their requests you grant.

Require your kids to make an effort to obtain at least some of their wants on their own (perhaps by doing extra household chores or doing yardwork for a neighbor to earn money), rather than purchasing the items for them. This will help curb feelings of entitlement and make your kids personally responsible for achieving their desires.

4. Not establishing boundaries

A growing trend is for parents to allow their children to do whatever they desire, whenever they want to do it.

“They want to be popular with their kids and often are afraid to come down hard with rules,” observes William Damon, Ph.D., director of the Stanford Center on Adolescence. “It’s the idea that ‘my kid’s not going to like me if I tell him no.’”

These parents would rather be seen as their child’s friend, someone who’s fun, rather than an authority figure. This leads to their being more permissive. “It’s the path of least resistance, because you’re not enforcing rules, and not confronting your kids about what they’re doing,” Dr. Damon says.

But kids do need rules and limits. They need to understand what behaviors are and aren’t acceptable, and the consequences for noncompliance. They should know what the expectations are for chores, electronics usage, schoolwork, curfews, bedtimes, mealtimes and so on.

Establishing boundaries tells children their parents are managing the household, which provides them with a sense of security. A benefit to parents is that over time their children are less likely to argue, talk back and whine.Your rules don’t have to be written down (although some families do this), but you do need to clearly communicate them to your kids and be consistent in enforcing them.

Establishing boundaries tells children their parents are managing the household, which provides them with a sense of security. A benefit to parents is that over time their children are less likely to argue, talk back and whine.

Ultimately, family rules teach children a valuable lesson: that it’s not okay to do whatever we please. There will always be rules for the welfare of the community and for our own good.

Kids who grow up with boundaries learn that it’s normal and necessary to submit to authorities (Hebrews 13:17). That includes complying with teachers, bosses, police officers, airport security agents—and most important, God.

5. Shielding them from the realities of life

We don’t want our kids to suffer. If we see them hurting or headed for trouble, our immediate inclination is to rush in and remedy the situation for them. So we confront the person who made our child cry, call the coach and insist he give our son more playing time, or do the science project for our daughter after she’s procrastinated for a month.

Young children may truly need their parents to intervene on their behalf. But as kids get older, they need to start learning how to face problems on their own. It’s a mistake to try to shield older children and teens from all adversity. We must let them face difficulties now to prepare them to live as adults in this world.

“When we hurt, we can learn important truths about ourselves and about others, truths that will be beneficial later in our lives. … Pain is actually a necessary teacher,” writes Dr. Elmore (ibid., p. 172).

Offer your kids guidance for how to cope with their difficulties without telling them what to do. They may be dealing with the consequences of their own mistakes or concerned about how a global problem, such as the COVID-19 outbreak, is impacting them.

Explain that trials are to be expected (1 Peter 4:12) and that they’re opportunities for building character (Romans 5:3-4).

Prayer of parents

It’s not easy being a parent in a world headed a totally different direction than the way of life outlined in the Bible. The parenting fails in this article may actually be considered normal in our modern culture.

But we can pray for and receive God’s help. We must stay close to God so that we avoid society’s parenting pitfalls and succeed in raising the godly offspring He so desires.

About the Author

Becky Sweat

Becky Sweat is a freelance author and a member of the Church of God.

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