The ethos of parenting has evolved over the past decades from one of detachment to over-involvement. Kids used to be left to their own devices. Parents weren’t obsessing about the impact their behaviors had on their kids. As long as they ate and went to school and stayed out of trouble, things were fine.

21st century parenting, often referred to as helicopter parenting, is defined by hyper-awareness of child development and an obsessive and controlling approach to child-rearing. It feels like opposite sides of the same coin, from laissez-faire to overbear.

So what is the right amount of involvement?
How much should we push our kids versus allowing them to do their own thing?

There has been a collective response to the idea that children should be seen and not heard. That is progress for sure. Talking to our kids, listening to them, knowing what is going on in their lives, and setting limits and boundaries are all important pieces of proactive parenting.

Having lived and raised children in New York City for almost a decade, I had a few opportunities to brush up against some extremes, where little kids had busier schedules than corporate execs, and preschool applications were submitted before kids were even born.

One thing that is important for us parents to be mindful of is our own triggers and being aware of what is motivating our decisions and behaviors. It’s inevitable that the ways we were parented will impact how we parent. The more aware we are of this, the more we can regulate our own behavior. We owe it to our kids to do our own homework and not to make them do it for us.

Another thing that is important is to remember that they are kids and not to treat them like adults and expect them to have the same values and discipline that we do as adults. Kids need time to chill, relax, unwind and fill their tanks.

That doesn’t mean carte blanche with electronics. Consistency with rules and limit setting is helpful to kids. They will always try to push the limits and if they see that the rules are easy to break, the rules will lose their meaning pretty quickly. Setting reasonable limits is containing for kids and sends a message that we care.

Encouraging extra-curricular interests and activities is great, but the more invested we get, the more anxious and pressured our kids tend to feel, and that can turn them off to something, or make them want to do it to please us. It’s important to expose them to different things and to pay attention to what they enjoy doing and to emphasize the process of the activity and not the outcome.

I am a believer in allowing for boredom. It forces kids to develop a muscle that can easily atrophy this day and age because there are always distractions. Boredom creates space for the imagination and feelings and a deeper connection to oneself. This is equally true for adults. When is the last time you just sat and did nothing at all?

Ultimately, I believe that balance is the name of the game when it comes to parenting. Being present, listening, communicating, setting limits, expressing interest, self-awareness, perspective, respect and being there when they need us, but not so much so that they aren’t allowed to fail. We need to own our part as parents so our kids can have their own experiences and learn empowerment by trial and error. It’s not something we can do for them.

David B. Younger, Ph.D. is the creator of Love After Kids, for couples that have grown apart since having children. He is a clinical psychologist and couples therapist with a web-based private practice and lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, 13-year-old son, 3-year-old daughter and 5-year-old toy poodle.

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