The best kind of parenting study, as far as I'm concerned, is the kind that reinforces the way you've been doing things all along. Yes, you think to yourself. See? I'm not such a crappy parent after all!
Just such a study came out today in the journal Child Development: According to researchers at the University of Virginia, parents who allow their kids to disagree with them – reasonably arguing their point of view, even if it diverges from their parents' perspective – are more likely to resist peer pressure as teenagers when it comes to drug and alcohol use. "What we found was that what teens learn at home in terms of handling disagreements, they largely take into their interactions with their peers," lead author Joseph Allen told the Canadian Press. "So if they learn to be calm and confident and persuasive at home, they'll do the same thing with their peers."
In other words, we parents need to teach our kids to stand up for what they believe in and what is right by first teaching them to stand up for themselves at home with us. This makes so much sense to me. I've never understood parents who believe kids aren't entitled to express their own opinions. Didn't "children should be seen and not heard?" go out decades ago? But even more, I don't understand homes where disagreements are seen as automatically bad things.
In my home, we have a lot of spirited disagreements. We listen to each other's perspectives and opinions and express our own – sometimes passionately -- while trying to give everyone (including our 8-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter) a chance to be heard. Sure, we occasionally get carried away by our own impassioned convictions and talk over each other, but we try to keep things in control. We try not to shout. And we never attack each other personally. My husband and I have learned a great deal from our kids – and I imagine that they have learned from us – in these discussions. And ultimately, we almost always reach a consensus that considers everyone's point of view.
Right now, the topics of debate are mostly family issues: Is it reasonable to expect the kids to help set the table at dinnertime, when there is homework (and playing) to be done? Is it fair to leave baseball cards strewn about the upstairs hallway for anyone to step and slip on if you are in the middle of sorting them? That sort of thing. But as our kids grow, I fully expect the topics of debate to grown bigger and thornier. (Is it OK to stay out with your friends until the wee hours? Is it a good idea to hang out with that crowd?) By then, our kids will have had years of practice, learning to weigh what's right and wrong, standing up for what they believe in, considering other perspectives, and discussing ideas and issues civilly and reasonably.
Ultimately, the home is a great place to formulate and learn to stand up for what you believe in, as the study shows. Then again, if you disagree, I'm happy to debate it!
Do you think reasonably arguing issues at home can be good for families and for kids?
Image via ttarasiuk/Flickr