My girls started school today with a back to school orientation. Most colleges have a Freshman Orientation. But where and when is the Parent Orientation? Listening to Jennifer Fulwiler on the radio yesterday, I was intrigued by a segment about teens and “peer orientation.” No, it wasn’t about a child’s first day of school or leaving your teen in the woods and making them find their own way home (though this may be very tempting at times, it’s orienteering, not orientation). The segment was about helping our children find their North, their grounding, their belief system, their sense of direction. After reading the book, Hold Onto Your Kids by by Doctors Neufeld and Maté, Jennifer stated, “peer orientation is the #1 battle modern parents should be fighting.”
The authors of the book contend that “peer orientation undermines family cohesion, interferes with healthy development, and fosters a hostile and sexualized youth culture. Children end up becoming overly conformist, desensitized, and alienated, and being “cool” matters more to them than anything else.” Wow. Any parent who reads or hears that should stop and think. Is that my child? Have I allowed this to happen in my family? What matters more to my kids – what I think or what their friends think? What I believe or what their friends believe? What I tell them is right vs wrong or what society tells them is right vs wrong?
We’d all like to think that our children listen to us, believe us, see us as the main influence in their lives, but is that really true? The premise of the book argues that it is not. In our modern society, parents don’t matter. Sometimes I see it with my own girls – Mom is right about some things, but society is right about most things. How did that happen? Since when did society become the ruling being over all thoughts and beliefs? Doctors Neufeld and Maté tell us that social media pays a large role in peer orientation as does our society’s value of economy over culture. But the biggest factor is the alienation of the child, and this is usually not done on purpose.
We no longer live in villages, tribes, or even communal neighborhoods. Extended families live miles, perhaps even states or countries apart. Often, both parents work long hours away from the house, and divorce is rampant throughout our society. Who fills the void? Television, movies, social media, and peers. Children must be “cool” in order to succeed. They lose their own individuality and hide their natural curiosity and intelligence in order to better conform with their peers. One result of this is the rise of the gang culture within many of our cities. Children want, no they need, to feel loved and accepted even it comes from a non-loving source. Children who don’t have that love and acceptance, feel vulnerable and enraged, and lash out at other children as well as themselves, causing emotional and physical harm. This leads to bullying, shunning, an increase in suicide, and in some cases, teens killing teens. By losing touch with our kids, we parents are contributing to the downfall of society, Does that sound harsh, scary even? You bet it does, but there is hope.
Parents can bring their children back around by helping their children to see the value not only in their parents but in themselves. The key, according to Dr. Maté is being emotionally present for and nurturing toward our children. He argues that orientation to a mother, a father, a sibling, or peers results from attachment, an “essential for human life.” Children who are detached, cannot be taken care of. They shun attachment and emotion, and they end up shunning others. We need to connect to our families, to our children. We need to spend time together, eat together, vacation together, talk to each other, listen to each other, and help each other. We need to make sure that we parents, our families, are the people to whom our children attach. It’s not a matter of politics or continuing a family legacy. It’s about helping children to know that they have a purpose in life, that they matter, that they are loved and valued for whom they are.
An indicator of where a child’s orientation lies is how they identify themselves. Humans used to be identified by their family, their clan, or their tribe. That’s not the norm any more. We identify ourselves by our political party, our peer group, society’s definition of who or what we should be. Remember when everyone was identified as “Ken’s Wife,” or “Judy’s Daughter?” When’s the last time you heard someone say that? That is an attachment, an
acknowledgement about whom it is that matters. Last night, I asked my girls to tell me who they are, how they would identify themselves if being introduced to someone new in our community, not by using a societal description but by answering honestly about how they see themselves in life. My favorite answer was Katie’s. She said, “I’m Rebecca’s sister.” She didn’t say it as a jealous or undervalued younger sister or as someone who simply follows in another’s footsteps. She said this with pride and love. The child I worry about the most identifies herself by attaching herself to her sister. Now that’s an orientation I can live with.
Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her book, Picture Me, is the recipient of an Illumination Award, placing it among the top three eBooks of 2015. Her latest book, Whispering Vines, is now available for purchase.
You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com.