Too Strict or Too Lenient

Posted on: 01/16/12 1:30 PM | by Jonathan McKee

One of the questions I am probably asked the most frequently after my parenting workshops is, “How I do I know if I’m being too strict… or too lenient.”

We’ve all thought it; sometimes it’s just hard to find the balance of where to land. (It’s something I’ve blogged about before–5 Principles Parents Should Remember When Setting the Bar).

I constantly come across articles and studies on each polar extreme. “Exert control over your children’s media choices.” No… “you might not be helping your kid when you try to control everything your kid sees, plays, and listens to.”

Who are we to believe?

Is there a balance?

A few days ago Psychology Today posted an article by Peter Gray, research professor of psychology at Boston College, encouraging parents to think twice before limiting your kids’ screen time and video game play. Gray is pretty confident in kids’ abilities to make good choices about how to use their free time, especially when they’re given the freedom to play and explore in lots of different ways. Gray contends:

It is always a mistake, I think, to tell kids what they must or must not do, except in those cases where you are telling them that they must do their share of the chores around the house or must not do things that hurt you or other people. Whenever we prevent our kids from playing or exploring in the ways they prefer, we place another brick in a barrier between them and us. We are saying, in essence, “I don’t trust you to control your own life.” Children are suffering today not from too much computer play or too much screen time. They are suffering from too much adult control over their lives and not enough freedom.

Gray’s article isn’t just talking about computer time, he includes TV watching in his list of activities that parents should consider not limiting, despite what some experts say. He provides a personal example:

I know well a kid who, for years, spent hours per day watching television shows that I thought were really disgustingly dumb; but, over time, I discovered that she was getting a lot out of them. They were making her think in new ways. She understood all the ways in which the shows were dumb, at least as well as I did; but she also saw ways in which they were smart, and she analyzed them and learned from them

He goes on to argue that parents shouldn’t limit reading, computer time, video game time and other activities. (I encourage you to read the entire article, even if you don’t agree with it)

Is Gray right? Or is this kind of thinking like the report I shared in Chapter 3 of my parenting book about the lenient parenting styles in the Netherlands, where parents often allow their teenage girls to have boyfriends spend the night in their bedrooms. Seem crazy? Then why are U.S. teen birthrates 8 times higher than the Netherlands?

Let me quickly insert, I don’t agree with these lenient parenting styles, but I include this kind of research in my reading frequently to see if there are any nuggets of truth we can learn from them. For example, in that Netherlands report that I noted in my book, the channels of communication seemed to be extremely open between parents and teenagers.

The question is, can we have good relationships with our kids without turning into a “yes” man? (“Yes, you can play video games as long as you want.” “Yes, you can go to bed when you want.“ “Yes, you can have your boyfriend spend the night.”)

At what point does leniency become advocacy of harmful activities?

So what do you think?
Is Gray right?

Should we be concerned about these “bricks” we place as a barrier between our kids and us when we prevent them from playing the way they prefer? (At what point are we trying too hard to be friend, instead of parent?)

Where do we draw the line? (What if my kid wants to play the new Zelda game on Wii for 9 hours on a Saturday? What if they want to play Grand Theft Auto? At what point do we know if we meet Gray’s definition of “things that hurt you or other people”?)

Should there be a limit to screen time? (in other words, do you agree with Gray- who says “no limit,” or the American Academy of Pediatrics who says, “yes- set limits.”)

5 Replies to “Too Strict or Too Lenient”

  1. I do believe that children need and want boundaries. I do believe that we, as parents, need to set boundaries. I believe that allowing your child to make choices is a great learning tool. However, we must remember that they are not adults. They do not understand all of the consequences for their actions the way that we do. I think that it is a balancing act. Each child is different and each child must be “parented” differently. Keeping in close communication with God is a necessary component to parenting.

  2. 1. Lori, I think your comments are spot on. High and clear expectations, open communication, and the realization that you are the PARENT and they are the KIDS are crucial.

    2. The comparison between teen birthrates in the U.S. vs. The Netherlands in the article seemed rather weak. Was abortion a factor? The morning after pill (also an abortion) a factor? What about different forms of contraception?

    I’m hoping there are more stats about this that just weren’t brought up (which is understandable since the article had a different focus). If not, then I don’t think that comparison should have been used.

    1. My point about the Netherlands study was simple: here’s a study that drew conclusions that would make many of us cringe… very extreme. I don’t expect you to agree with it. It was very much the opinion of, “Let teens make their own choices. Treat them like adults.” I think you can see the similarities to this PT article above. And I always find it interesting to read these opinions that I disagree with, because I often find some kernels of truth in them (such as the focus on frequent conversations between parent and teen in the Netherlands report). I obviously go into a lot more detail in my book… just thought it was worth mentioning here.

  3. Good article and good comments Loi & Greg! Thanks Jonathan! As parents we have such a great responsability to raise godly children. I pray every day for the wisdom to be the best mother I can be for my children!

  4. D noI have a 20, 19, 17, 10 and a 5 year old. I think I have been through every one of these parenting styles! Here is the deal, yes I let my daughter watch the hunger games, with me. We made it a date night and had a great time. How did we like it? We loved it! I am a youth leader and two days before hand one of the parents asked me my opinion on this movie. She was upset because her daughter’s dad was going to let her go. I went to our youth pastor. We watched a few of the trailers in his office. I decided to take my daughter. Our youth pastor sent an email out to the parents of our youth. My 17 year old daughter still lives at home. She loves youth group, church, and her friends. She has learned so much. Her Dad and I have taught her how to make good decisions to the best of our ability. Now it is time for us to stand back a little bit and watch her make some. So far, because of the good morals she has learned in youth group and her closer circle of friends being Christian girls, she is getting some good sound advice therefore making right decisions. She is doing this because she wants to, and not what we are making her do. This is a blessing. Know who your students friends are. Un Christian friends are ok, but the inner circle should be ones that encourage and uplift in a Godly way. Talk to your teens. It makes all the difference in the world. They are craving their parents to communicate and listen.

Comments are closed.