Child Safety – Remembering That I Am The Adult.

On Fridays I review an article or book on child development and reflect on how this information may help me with my current or future parenting.

This week’s post is also an entry into a competition being held by Megan at Imaginif child protection became serious business. Megan’s blog aims to put the issue of child protection in all forms centre stage.

The competition also coincides with Blog Against Sexual Violence Day which is April 3, 2008 and the winner of the competition will be announced then.

With me eldest son only 9, I am still some years away from the world of the the teenager, but some recent well publicised events have made me contemplate what my role will be as parent with my teenage children.

There was of course the infamous “Naughty Corey” party in Melbourne, where police including a police helicopter were needed to control a party which went out of control with 500 gatecrashers. Miranda Devine from the Sydney Morning Herald details a number of these parties turned disasters in her article “Strife of the party: the Corey boy’s legacy”

Teenagers now have access to communication technology which enable such rapid and extensive networking, that even the best planned and supervised party can still end up with hundreds of gatecrashers. And it is not just out of control parties that is a concern for parents but all the side effects that can come from consumption of alcohol like violence, sexual assault, road accidents and serious damage to growing brains.

An opinion piece in The Age the following day, though gave parents more valuable insights as to how they can keep child safety in tact through this adventurous period of a child’s life:

“communication technology, such as the Internet and mobile phones, is breaking down barriers but at the same time blurring boundaries. What were, until recently, adult tools of business are now seen as “essential” children’s toys for recreation and socialising.

These extremely powerful tools can be a threat to the vulnerable — from predators targeting children on the Internet or mobile phones being used to rally scores of young people to “crash” parties of innocent teenagers and parents. The net result of of all this is to remove power from parents.”

This article was written by Dr Simon Crisp who is a clinical adolescent and family psychologist in the faculty of education at Monash University. The article was entitled “Kids party, parents get a hangover” .

Dr Crisp makes it clear that in the parent teenager relationship, the parent must remain the adult player in this relationship and assert the power were appropriate, that comes with this role to ensure child safety.

“Generally, one of the biggest threats to a child’s health and wellbeing is when parents are rendered powerless or ineffective. Developmentally, the lives of teenagers need parents to not just take control at certain times, but have the power to do so.”

When trying to keep the communication channels open I have heard many stories of parents finding their role confusing as they try hard to be a “friend” to their teenager.

Gary Direnfeld a social worker with expertise in child development and parent-child relations, confirms for me what I had suspected:

“It is generally not realistic to be a friend and a parent at the same time. This doesn’t mean parents are not friendly in carrying out their role as parents, but the objective is not to be a friend to their son or daughter. The objective is to have a clear parental boundary and provide the direction, guidance, limits and structure necessary to keep teens on track. The goal is to raise teens into healthy, law abiding, capable and contributing adults with good morals.”

My eldest son’s Montessori teacher once gave me this analogy on setting boundaries. She said that children are like a river. If the banks are too tight, the pressure from the river will force it to burst over the edge. If the banks are too wide, the river keeps stretching and stretching and stretching until it can reach the banks. It seems that this analogy fits not only to preschoolers, but also to teenagers:

“As they grow, young people learn about their new-found power and how to exercise it. It is precisely at this time that the adults in their lives need to hold the upper hand so they can guide them and eventually hand over that power when appropriate. Where children have equal or greater power — perhaps because they are technologically more savvy — then they enter dangerous territory.”

I can imagine and remember from my own teenage years, that playing this parenting role, can make mum and dad very unpopular. But if a teenagers disapproval is the price for child safety, then I think that will be one that I will be prepared to pay.

Have you experienced the wrath of an unhappy teenager whilst ensuring their own safety?