I was talking to the mother of a teenage girl and the mother was very distraught that her daughter was doing things neither taught at home nor given parental approval - her clothing, appearance, habits, language, etc. She was also upset by the comments of her relatives and friends regarding her upbringing. The snide comments and sarcastic remarks were making their impact. The main question that worried the mother was: "Where have I gone wrong in the upbringing of my daughter?"
This is a question that agonizes parents endlessly because it has been drilled into our heads that parenting determines how the child will behave in the world. Contrary to evidence in every family, we continue to believe that parents are the ONLY people who mould the personality of children.
Peer Groups And Masks Of Children
When you look a little deeper, you realize that apart from parents, there are others who have a rather profound effect on children - the peer group that the children belong to. Most children have two ways of behaving, so to say two masks, one for inside the house and the other, outside. What they are in the world outside is to a large extent determined by the peer group. The need for a sense of belonging as children grow up is satisfied more by the peer group than by the family. That children resemble their peer group more than their parents is the elephant in the room.
Behaviour Is The Result Of Complex Factors
Parenting Is but one of the important factors. Take a look at the many habits/traits/belief systems of your teenage kids. How much do they resemble you? At times they are so different from you, it may make you wonder, where these issues are concerned, whether they are really your kids. Often they may bring their learning from the outside world into their homes but rarely do they take the learning from inside the house outside when they are with the peer group.
This is not to say that parenting does not matter. It certainly does - lack parental concern, care, affection, acceptance can be devastating for a child. But at the same time, parents don't have to flagellate themselves if their kids don't turn out to be like them. The effect of peer influence is grossly underrated. We can give our children love, affection and acceptance but beyond that, they have their own ideas of life. Kalil Gibran, as always, said it beautifully:
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
It is really sad when parents punish themselves (because of the mistaken notion that ONLY parents are responsible) for the way their children turn out to be. It is not wise to pin down a single and simple cause, for effects that are a result of complex interactions.