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The Predictive Responsibility of Parents

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Parenting is partly a process of preparation. A child is an adult in training, and parents must decide what that training is to be. To provide this preparation, parents must be able to think ahead. Consider three ways in which this is commonly done: Responsible worry, Now = Later, and Outcome-based planning.

Because children and adolescents tend to focus more on present desire than future consequence, it is useful for parents to engage in RESPONSIBLE WORRY when the child or teenager is pressing them to permit some new freedom. What is wanted "Now" is all the child can see, and parents must expand that vision to include consideration of possible consequences. They do this by asking the worry question: "What if?" They want to slow the child down enough to see beyond simple desire, predict possible problems, and think through some contingencies to cope with if in fact any of these problems should occur. "We're not saying you will get separated from your friends at the mall, but if you did, what could you do to safely take care of yourself then?"

The growth equation that most children and adolescents tend to ignore, but which parents are ever mindful is NOW = LATER. What this means is that how the child is learning to act now, in the present, is how he or she is likely to act later on the future. Human beings are not simply creatures of habit, they are captives of habit, much of what they do based on what they have done before. Thus parents want to help the child learn good habits now that will well serve their son or daughter later on. Therefore, when the teenager, in frustration with parental opposition, uses name-calling and threats to deal with the conflict, they understand that by allowing such tactics now they will encourage the young person to resort to such destructive strategies in other significant relationships later on. So they say: "Before we discuss this matter any further, we need to talk about your manner of communication. The first rule in family conflict is safety, and you are violating that right now by using deliberately hurtful words and making threats. If we let you act that way in conflict with us now we are only preparing you to conduct conflict this way with with others later on. You could damage a future caring relationship if you acted like this. So,if you are feeling frustrated with us, then talk to us about it instead of acting that frustration out in hurtful ways."

Finally, it is useful for parents to engage in OUTCOME-BASED PLANNING as they prepare their child for the future. For example, around the issue of responsibility, parents can can ask themselves this question:"When our child graduates from our care into independence, what specific knowledge and skills will he or she need to support adult responsibilities?" Then list out all the knowledge and skills required for a responsible independence and ask a second question. "At what age of our child do we want to start teaching these later requirements?" By specifying later outcomes, parents can decide on what training and preparation they should be giving now.

Copyright 2001 Carl Pickhardt Ph.D. All rights reserved. For permission to use, contact author.
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