Parents get to decide many things in their children’s lives, especially early on when they are still too young to decide for themselves. As the children get older, parents can slowly loosen their grip on their children’s lifestyle choices – except when they don’t.
The level of parental influence on children’s lives normally varies as the child matures. It makes sense for a parent to be strict on their very young children – for instance, enforcing when their toddlers should brush their teeth and go to bed. As young children, parental influence over these aspects of their lives is mainly for protection and the child’s wellbeing. It is from their parents that children learn what is right and wrong, good and bad, who they are in the world and who they can be. Children are taught to obey their elders and ask for permission if they want something. The child would probably listen to their parents, trusting that they have their best interests at heart. This sets a precedent for children to incorporate these good habits into their lives even when they are older.
Slightly older children start to develop a sense of their personal choices, although they still accept that their parents know best when it comes to certain choices. This is when the child would probably balk if their parents still tried to dictate aspects of their lives that fell under the personal domain. If a parent told a ten-year-old that they could not play with their best friend, the ten-year-old would be more likely to disobey compared to a younger child, because they recognize that they should be allowed to choose their own friends. Parents may find their children rebellious or defiant at this age while both parties are trying to work out where their boundaries are.
By the time children reach their teenage years, parents will unlikely still be telling their teenagers what to wear and when to eat. More things shift from the “protection” domain to the personal domain, and the child may accordingly expect to have more control over their lives. Any teenager would probably dislike it if their parents went through their text messages and started reprimanding them for how they responded to their friends. They would probably also hate it if their parents insisted on deciding what subjects they studied. As the teenagers become young adults, they are fully in control of almost every aspect of their lives, perhaps having their parents weigh in on big decisions such as moving out, getting married or starting a new career.
Although the majority of children grow up with progressive autonomy, some have parents who are either too relaxed or too strict. On one hand, there are the completely passive parents, those who are indifferent towards what their children do in their everyday lives. They allow their children to make their own choices in all matters. On the other hand, there are the so-called “helicopter” parents, those who rule with an iron fist and dictate exactly what their children are allowed to do. Of course, being on either extreme is probably not good for the child in the long run. Although young children may wish that their parents would give them anything they wanted, too little parental control can hinder the child’s development. A child with lenient parents may be more inclined to engage in dangerous or negligent behavior because nobody told them that it is bad for them. They may also feel lonely, as if their parents have left them to fend for themselves. Children on the other end of the scale, with overcontrolling parents, may feel trapped and forced to be who their parents want them to be. In some of the worst cases, the parents may shadow the child wherever they go and monitor their daily activities carefully. This is often a point of distress for teenagers who are starting to develop their own self-identity. They often feel that their parents are intruding on their personal space and choices, and it can also be embarrassing to have to explain to their friends why outings or sleepovers are not allowed.
In addition to direct authority, parents also have unspoken influence over their children. As the first adult figures a child come to recognize, parents are the role models that a child grows up emulating. In those first most critical years, children’s behavior is shaped by observing their parents. If the parents have certain mannerisms, chances are the child will learn that. If the parents have consistent good or bad habits, the child will probably pick up on those, too. For any first-time experience, children will often try to imitate what their parents are doing. Many of these habits and mannerisms follow the children into adulthood. Even when they become parents themselves, they may still emulate their parents’ way of raising children because it is a new experience. On the other hand, the new parents may disagree with certain aspects of how their own parents raised them, and choose not to do that for their own children. Either way, one can say that parental influence is long-lasting and permanently shapes a person for their entire lives.
Generally, parents exert authority over their children because they believe it is in the child’s best interests. Most parents only want their children to be safe and grow healthily. Raising children is a new experience for any first-time parents, and some may unknowingly overstep boundaries, especially if they feel that their children are growing up too fast. They may also not recognize that their children require more autonomy as they get older. Many parents still see their adult children as little kids, which can also cause them to exercise more authority than necessary. Other parents may come from very traditional households or have first-hand experience of the dangers of the world, purposely trying to shield their children from harm. Sometimes, it falls to the children to remind their parents that they are old enough to make their own decisions.
Beyond the tender ages of childhood, perhaps it is best if both parents and children come to a compromise. As different cultures and different families may have their own views, it is up to each household to establish the ground rules, what the child is allowed to decide, and what their parents have to decide for them. Above all, it is crucial that the parents and children listen to each other. Nobody is infallible – there will probably be times when a parent oversteps by mistake, or a child demands something that they cannot have. However, it is up to the family to sort things out and have some talks whenever someone feels that the sphere of influence needs to be adjusted.
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