It is interesting to note that in life we are trained in almost every area and made to understand the importance of living successfully, there is usually no training given to prepare us for parenting. Most of us either imitate what our parents thinking to ourselves, ‘I didn't turn out so bad' or we try to glean from other people we know whom we think have done a good job as parents.
We seldom stop to think of our own personalities, our weaknesses and strengths and develop them in relation to our role as parents. We need to know and evaluate ourselves critically. If we find ourselves having it "my way or the highway" or discover that we are a little too "uptight," we can learn to be a little more humble and also have a sense of humour.
Parenting is also a partnership and when one parent dominates, it can be very unhealthy. Children must see the unity in the complementary roles of parents so that they know they cannot play one parent against another. It is important for parents to talk about what the ground rules are in the home and what is acceptable and non-acceptable behaviour so that everyone understands that there is an unwritten code which makes that home safe and special.
To applaud and affirm children when they try to please or make an effort to be polite is one way of moulding them. It is also essential that we are consistent in our expectations of them and apologise when we have misunderstood a situation or made a mistake.
In our role as parents we are being perceived as role models. We have to live out the values we want our children to emulate and one of them is the value of purity. In a world where there is so much that is sordid and cheap in its treatment of the human body, parents must consciously model the virtue of purity, modesty and moderation. The human body is sacred and must be regarded as a gift to be looked after and used to live a happy and healthy life.
We need to engage teenagers about the kind of behaviour depicted in a movie or by a certain sports or music idols and discuss it in the context of our values. We need to talk about the mentors we have had in our lives and ask them to also look for other role models to emulate. It has been said that values are caught rather than taught and the reason why the way parents live their lives is so important.
How much time to we spend on the TV or on the Internet? What kind of programs do we watch and what sites are we visiting?
Question 1: When do children begin to develop a sexual nature? Does this occur suddenly during puberty?
Answer: No, it occurs long before puberty. Perhaps the most important concept suggested by Freud was his observation that children are not asexual. He stated that sexual gratification begins in the cradle and is first associated with feeding. Behaviour during childhood is influenced considerably by sexual curiosity and interest, although the happy hormones do not take full charge until early adolescence. Thus, it is not uncommon for a four-year-old to be interested in nudity and the sexual apparatus of the opposite sex.
The primary school years are an important time in the forming of sexual attitudes. Parents should be careful not to express shock and disgust over this kind of curiosity, even though they have to disapprove of exploratory behaviour. It is believe that many sexual problems begin as a result of inappropriate training during early childhood.
Question 2: My four-year-old has recently "discovered" his penis and seems rather preoccupied with it. Do you think it's unusual or wrong for him to fondle himself so much?
Answer: The answer to both of your questions is an emphatic no! Unintentional (or even intentional) self-arousal in young children, specifically boys, is neither unusual nor wrong. Your little guy is simply showing that he is "properly wired." There are no long-term consequences to this kind of innocent childish behaviour, and it will soon resolve itself.
The only significance to early fondling activity is in how you as a parent deal with it. I've received letters from mothers who say they have spanked their preschoolers for touching themselves. Some have described great concerns about this behaviour, seeing it as evidence of an immoral nature that had to be crushed. That is a very dangerous posture to take. I suggest that you not make a big deal over it.
Question 3: That's easy for you to say. My four-year-old daughter doesn't just fondle herself at home, where we ignore it. She rubs herself whenever we are in public, such as at a restaurant. How should I deal with that?
Answer: You should respond as a teacher, not a disciplinarian. Take your daughter aside and talk about your concern. Explain that there are some things that we don't do in public – not because they are wrong, but because they are impolite. Just as you wouldn't urinate in front of other people, you should not be touching yourself when others can see you.
If she continues to fondle herself, other people will think she is strange and some may laugh at her – something you're sure she wouldn't like. Your purpose in speaking this way is to sensitise her to the social implications involved in what she's doing. Show yourself to be firm and confident, not shocked or embarrassed.
The key to your approach is the avoidance of any suggestion that her body is dirty or "wrong" or evil. Such an implication might raise a whole host of other problems for your child that could carry over into adolescence and even adulthood.
Question 4: I am concerned about the impact of television in our home. How can we control it without resorting to dictatorial rules and regulations?
Answer: It seems that we have three objectives as parents: First, we want to monitor the quality of the programs our children watch. Second, we want to regulate the quantity of television they see. Even good programs may have an undesirable influence on the rest of children's activities if they spend too much time watching them. Third, we should include the entire family in establishing a TV policy.
I read about a system recently that is very effective in accomplishing all three of these purposes. First, it was suggested that parents sit down with the children and agree upon a list of approved programs that are appropriate for each age level. Then type that as a list (or at least write it clearly) which can be referred to, throughout the week.
Second, either purchase or make a roll of tickets. Issue each child ten tickets per week, and let him or her use them to "buy" the privilege of watching the programs on the approved list. When the tickets are gone, TV viewing is over for that week. This teaches a child to be discriminating about what is watched. A maximum of ten hours of viewing per week might be an appropriate place to start.
This system can be modified to fit individual home situations or circumstances. If there's a special program over the holiday season that all children want to see, you can issue more tickets. You might also give extra tickets as rewards for achievement or some other laudable behaviour.
The real test will occur when parents reveal whether or not they have the courage to put themselves on that limited system, too. We often need the same regulations in our viewing habits!
Question 5: The children who play with my kids in the neighbourhood are familiar with terrible programs on the television. I can't believe that their parents let them watch such violent and sexualised stuff. What is the long-term consequence of this programming on children?
Answer: It is sad and very difficult to understand why so many parents fail to supervise what their kids watch. To those who let them watch anything they wish, I would pose this proposition: Suppose a complete stranger came to your door and said, "You look tired. Why don't you let me take care of your children for a day or two?" I doubt if many of you would say, "Great idea. Come on in."
When we sit our children in front of the television set, we're giving control over them to complete strangers; and more and more, that's a risky thing to do. An increasing number of studies found that violence on television frequently leads to later aggressive behaviour by children and teenagers.
It is time for parents to control the amount and the content of television that their children are watching. The consequences of not doing so can be catastrophic.
This article was written by Focus on the Family Malaysia and extracted from "The Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide" by Dr. James Dobson with permission.
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