‘Over-permissive’ or ‘disengaged’ parenting leaves children vulnerable and unprotected
In recent times we have read about the problems of being a “helicopter parent” who “hovers” over children becoming over-involved, deciding too much for children and not giving them the freedom to learn from their own mistakes.
However, equally problematic is “over-permissive” or “disengaged” parenting, when anything goes and children are given too much freedom for them to handle, or when parents are disconnected from their children in a way that leaves them vulnerable and unprotected.
The key to good parenting is to strike a balance between empowering children to decide for themselves and setting rules to guide and protect them.
In my clinical experience, generally parents set too few rather than too many rules with their children. Good parents can be persuaded by their children to be “over permissive” rather than “over controlling” and this can lead to problems.
Recently, I worked with a family, where the 12-year-old boy had access to his tablet overnight with his own private password (meaning his parents could not monitor his online activity). As a result, he was accessing violent and pornographic sites which were having a detrimental impact on him. Clearly, he needed definite rules about his tablet use, including a ban on late-night use and the agreement that his parents would know his password to monitor his use. However, his parents had drifted into a situation of not setting appropriate rules around technology and it took some time to re-establish them.
In addition, many parents might let their young teenage children drink alcohol at home with their friends out of a belief that this is safer than them drinking in unsupervised settings. The problem is that there is no evidence for this more permissive stance and in fact the evidence is to the contrary. Young teenagers who drink at home – albeit supervised by their parents – are much more likely to binge drink outside the home in unsupervised ways than peers whose parents adopt a more conservative stance.
While there is room for negotiation, children need clear, positive and generally conservative rules around safety to guide them.
As teenagers get older, of course they need to take more responsibility for themselves and so fewer “parent rules” are appropriate. However, even in those situations parents have a crucial role in advising and guiding teenagers. Teenagers are very influenced by their parents’ values and preferences once these are communicated to them. For example, you might say, “of course you have to make your own decisions, but I would prefer if you didn’t…