I have noticed that my son who is now aged 21 has become rather disorganised and dirty since he started attending college and gained more freedom in his life. Is it possible he might be having bad influence?
In one’s professional life, certain publications stand out as game changers in the way he practises in his chosen field. Just to make this point, we describe here an old study that changed many people’s views on peer pressure, in part because its findings seemed completely counter intuitive.
Prior to its publication, the teaching by experts in the field of adolescent health was much as you seem to believe. It was held then that as they approach adolescence, children are in great danger of being influenced by “bad” kids into ways that keep many parents awake at night.
At the time, statements like “there is no manual for bringing up children” and “children can only do well in boarding school” were very much in vogue.
Extended families, neighbourhood communities, churches and other groups spent many hours and other resources planning how to handle “the teenage crisis” which was viewed with the fear and apprehension commonly reserved for a nuclear attack.
Endless hours were spent in senseless and mostly misguided sessions always enveloped in intense prayer.
The study in reference came as a great relief to those professionals aware of it and many parents who have internalised the study now feel much less fear and dread and are more confident about their role as parents. What the study found was simply that: “children are more likely to be influenced by their parents than their peers”.
To put it as it is, your children are a good reflection of your core values and beliefs. To put it in other words, your children are more likely to be like you than they are to be like your neighbours.
So, before you blame others for the way your son is behaving at university, look at yourself first, and see if there are lessons you can learn from your own experiences at his age.
A few examples will put this view into some perspective. It is for example true, that teenagers rarely arm-twist each other into smoking or drinking.
Children, (like their parents) hang out with people who are like them. So, a church going fellowship pray together, while a football loving group hangs out together. Those who smoke and drink hang out together and so on. The choices made are, therefore, very crucial and this is where parents can have the greatest influence. There is some good news from a number of recent studies from USA and Iceland. Here are the facts.
The truth is that while 71 per cent of teens had tasted alcohol much fewer drink to get drunk. In 1997, 40 per cent of high school students drunk to get drunk, a number that came down to 27 per cent in 2010. The figures for cigarette use and other substance use are also coming down. The Iceland study was even more dramatic in its results and is worth looking at. Its basis was simply that parents know, or ought to know how to bring up their children, as long as they were forced to use common sense.
So, rather than tell the children how bad drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and violence are, the community reduced the amount of time teenagers had to engage in such behaviour. Rather than long lectures in church halls, the young boys and girls played whatever games they liked at least three times a week (always under supervision of an adult).
The time spent with parents, was systematically increased and more parents knew what their children were doing in the evenings. Since 1997 when this intervention started in Iceland, the rates of teenage violence, drug use and other disorders of conduct have come down dramatically. The “cure” for drug use and teenage violence was simply getting teenagers and their parents to spend time together!
As you ponder the situation of your son, perhaps you could spare some thought to some of the foregoing. In individual cases however, you must always consider the possibility that he has a clinically significant depressive illness and needs evaluation.
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