Hope for the “Me” Generation

The “Baby Boom” generation was so anxious to have good relationships with their children that they tended to set aside their primary role as parents.  Their desire to be their child’s best friend nurtured the advent of a self-centered, demanding, “Me Generation” who believes the world revolves around them.  But there’s hope!

Parenting in Past Generations — Too Rigid

As I’ve grown older, I see more with the eyes of my heart than I do with those on each side of my big nose.  And the aging process has brought me to a greater understanding of my own mom and dad’s parenting style.  I’ve learned that things really weren’t as bad as I used to think they were.

My dad, like yours, was less than relational; his focus was on providing for his family.  Working at the same job for 38 years; providing was his way of showing love for his family. He demanded respect. He taught us to be responsible because that’s the way he was taught, and he wanted us to live the same way.

My father worked hard because he grew up during the Great Depression, and he knew first-hand the challenges of having little to live on.  He also saw to it that our family was protected. Food was always on the table, a roof was always over our head, we all went to college, and the enemy he fought in the South Pacific never marched on our homeland.

Parenting in Today’s Generation — Too Relational

Then, the 60’s and 70’s came along. Some called it a revolution. Millions of “Baby Boomers” fell head over heels toward relationships and feelings of love for all mankind. Our music and lifestyle expressed our desire for universal peace and love.  We swooned to lyrics like “all you need is love,” and there was a “whole lotta’ love” going around.  And we “showered the people we love with love… showing them the way that we feel.”  Then we took our desire for peace, love and affection right into our parenting style.

Baby boomers as parents focused on maintaining peace and love, at all costs. We were determined to have better, stronger relationships with our kids than we had with our parents; carrying out these normally good and healthy desires to an extreme.  Out of financial abundance, we gave our kids everything they ever wanted, and more.  Modern conveniences allowed for more free time and less responsibility.  Soccer moms equipped with minivans shuttled kids from one event or activity to another, with stops at McDonald’s in-between.  We indulged, spoiled and provided too much “stuff” as misguided expressions of our love.

But Good Relationships Are Good, Aren’t They?

What’s wrong with too much love?  Nothing!  But there is something wrong with it if it is our only focus.  To put it bluntly, placing kids on a pedestal and focusing our lives on them created feelings of entitlement.  Kids began equating our love with our pocket book and our willingness to do things for them.  Their thrills in life came from getting new toys, new clothes, new honors, and new excitements. They became demanding, selfish, adrenalin junkies, searching daily for new thrills. When the excitement ended or the money train slowed, they became angry. We wanted to be the best parents ever, but the more we focused our attention and our money on our kids, the more they fell into anxiety, depression, and outright defiance. After all, they wouldn’t admit it, but deep down they were terrified for what they would do after they left the comforts and indulgences of home. Perhaps you have a teenager fitting this description living in your home now?

I’ve had the privilege of getting to know over 3,000 such teenagers in our Heartlight counseling program over the past 20 years. These are kids whose parents loved them greatly and gave them every convenience and materialistic advantage in life, yet they developed so many emotional problems that they had to be taken out of their homes. So, I’ve seen this phenomenon thousands of times; and we continue to receive dozens of pleas for help from parents of out of control teenagers every day.

The crux of the matter is that it is hard to be a good parent when our focus is on having peace, love and friendship with our children.  So, the big question is this:  How do parents establish their position of authority, while also maintaining their relationship with their teen? Tell your teenager…“I desire to stand beside you and walk with you in life… but make no mistake; I will stand in front of you when I need to.”

Parenting the Right Way – Balanced

A simple answer is to say things like “No” and “Maybe” more often; and we need to apply boundaries and consequences when our kids cross over the line.  Balanced parenting is applying strength when needed; and tenderness at the same time.  It is not just one or the other, it is both. The essence of balance in parenting is to stand beside our children and walk with them through life, while also determining to stand in front of them when we need to stop them from their foolish ways.  Our goal should be to help our kids get to where they want to be, and keep them from going to a place they really don’t want to end up. But since they are too immature to know any better, we need to remain in control, no matter how upset it makes them temporarily. Then, as they mature in their thinking, the reins can be gradually released. Believe me, your kids will express their appreciation when they are older for holding them in line as teenagers.

Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston is the founder and executive director of Heartlight Ministries, a residential counseling facility for adolescents in crisis. He is also a popular radio host and speaker and leads parenting seminars across the country. He and his wife, Jan, have served families and counseled youth for more than 40 years. They have two grown children and four grandchildren.

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