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“When we can’t say ‘No,’ we become a sponge for the feelings of everyone around us and we eventually become saturated by the needs of everyone else while our own hearts wilt and die. We begin to live our lives according to the forceful should of others, rather than the whispered, passionate want of our own hearts. We let everyone else tell us what story to live and we cease to be the author of our own lives. We lose our voice — we lose the desire planted in our souls and the very unique way in which we might live out that desire in the world. We get used by the world instead of being useful in the world.”  (source)

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These are the words of Dr. Kelly M. Flanagan, a licensed clinical psychologist who received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology at Penn State University. He’s currently in practice full time with the Alliance Clinical Associates in Wheaton, IL, and also does a lot of writing for various publications, which is how we came across this information which is making for a very interesting discussion.

He is not alone in his thoughts, as many experts agree that this type of behaviour is actually developmentally healthy for children. A psychologist at the University of Virginia, Joseph P. Allen, who lead a study on the subject, said that:

We tell parents to think of those arguments not as a nuisance but as a critical training ground. Such arguments are actually mini life lessons in how to disagree — a necessary skill later on in life with partners, friends and colleagues on the job. (source)

In his study, which was published in the journal Child Development157 13-year old children were videotaped describing their largest disagreement with their parents. Common topics here included money, friends, grades, and chores. The tape was then played for both the parents and the teen.

“Parents reacted in a whole variety of ways. Some of them laughed uncomfortably; some rolled their eyes; and a number of them dove right in and said, ‘OK, let’s talk about this.’ ” (source)

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The study found that what a teen learned during these disagreements with their parents was precisely what they took into their peer world, which includes all of the pressures to conform to a number of risky and harmful behaviours, like drugs and alcohol.

Allen then interviewed the teens again at ages 15 and 16 and found that the teens who learned to be confident, persuasive, and calm when it came to arguments with their parents acted in the same fashion with their peers.

“They were able to confidently disagree, saying ‘no’ when offered alcohol or drugs. In fact, they were 40 percent more likely to say ‘no’ than kids who didn’t argue with their parents.” (source)

A more worrisome behaviour, however, emerged in the other children. They were more likely to back down and give in to peer pressure, and accordingly, it is these children who concerned Allen and his team the most.

This research echoes earlier research that shows parents who listen to their kids, respect their thinking, and honour their opinions and desires, are more likely to have kids who are independent thinkers.

What Type Of World Have We Created For Our Children

conformAccording to the information above, it seems that we’ve created one of the worst possible environments for our children. They spend most of their childhood lives in educational institutions, for hours every day, being told what to do, how to do it, and why it needs to be done (sometimes, at least). Sure, some great learning might be going on, but something more concerning is also being taught — obedience and conformity. While children are busy growing up trying to find their place in  the world, they know that they will have to find a job and ‘conform’ in some way, shape or form. As a result, many of us “become saturated by the needs of everyone else while our own hearts wilt and die. We begin to live our lives according to the forceful should of others, rather than the whispered, passionate want of our own hearts. ” (taken from the first quote above)

This is why we are seeing so many issues with depression, because we are constantly encouraged to stay on the ‘correct’ path and do what everybody else is doing. On a larger scale, humanity is basically told what to do and how to live, and we have become one collective of compliant individuals, which, unfortunately, is now being reflected in the lives of children and their parents, who feel the need to dictate every aspect of their child’s experience in the world.

This is all changing, however, and this shift is being reflected in the birth of various alternative media sites; more people are recognizing and speaking about things that do not resonate with them about the human experience. We are starting to gain our voice, and we are starting to use and project it towards a greater future instead of continuing to comply with that which has become the norm.

On a small scale, I totally agree that parents should let their children talk back to them. They can be taught to do it in a peaceful, calm manner, but a parent should never shut down the opinion or viewpoint of their child. Instead, it should be taken seriously — show your children you care about what they have to say, even if it goes against your own belief of how your child should be thinking and acting. This does not mean letting them have their own way all the time. You must still set boundaries and express your own expectations. Rather, teach them to engage in reasoned debate so that they learn not only to confidently express their thoughts and feelings, but also how to deal with disappointment when things still don’t go their own way.

Let them be free from a pointing finger that tells them what to do and how to do it, they get enough of that (and will continue to throughout their lives) simply by living on this planet.

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