Nat Geo's show “The Dog Whisperer” is an interesting one for pet owners. After watching just one episode, you learn that for every completely-out-of-control dog making life miserable for its family, there is an owner without boundaries. With no clear guidelines, dogs struggle for their place in the family. All their instincts are out of whack. They bark incessantly. They bite visitors, and often owners. They terrorize other pets, children, or spouses. They may attack inanimate objects. The home generally becomes a prison. The dog forgets how to behave like a dog, and tries to take control of the family and house. The owners become frightened, permissive people whose lives are dictated by an animal.
The TV show host, Cesar, spends time with the family to learn how they function. Then he evaluates the dog's behavior. The problem always lies first with the owner's behavior. They may have humanized the dog. Pampered it to the extreme. They may love the dog too much to place any restrictions on it. They may fail to correct bad behavior. They may allow the dog to become more like a peer, than a pet. Cesar tells the family that dogs, being pack animals, always look to their leader for behavioral cues. If they don't get those cues, the balance of the pack is off-kilter, and the dog tries to take the lead. Every single time, Cesar has to re-train the owners, teach them to set boundaries, and that they have the right to lovingly enforce them. He has to teach them how to speak with authority. To mean what they say. To firmly tell, not weakly ask. And to teach them that they actually have the right to expect certain things from their dog. After the owners' re-training is done, he finally works with the dogs, who eagerly adhere to the new rules. Once the owners understand the level of guidance the dog needs from them, and begin giving it, balance is magically restored, and there is happiness for all concerned. The transformation of both owners and dogs is a beautiful sight.
Today, there is an epidemic of parents who want to be friends instead of parents. To give their children all they never had. To provide their children a life free from unpleasant things. To achieve this, one must remove distasteful things like rules, discipline, table manners, constructive criticism, delayed gratification, general respect or thought for anyone but themselves. As a result, our children are unclear what is expected from them, and vie for the lead. Our house becomes a prison, in which they are the wardens. Then, we send our children to school hoping the teachers will teach them how to behave, but we have unfortunately stripped them of the ability to do so. The problem continues until our children become teens who have the highest suicide rate ever, because their lives are meaningless.
Think I'm being an alarmist? Check the statistics.
Our window of opportunity in which to actually teach a child anything is from birth to five years of age. And we are simply not doing it. Don't believe me? Go to any restaurant for a nice meal. Odds are that at a table near you will be at least one loud, undisciplined child, whose parents seem to have acquired immunity. Oblivious that the child is ruining everyone else's dining experience, they rarely make eye contact or speak with the child, though he may repeatedly scream for their attention. The problem here is not terrible children, but parents afraid to be parents.
From birth, children may resent and test their boundaries, but they ultimately draw strength and balance from them. They are more grounded in life when they know what is expected of them. They make better decisions when they learn that there will be consequences, good or not so good, from their actions. They “act” like children, not terrorists. And the home ceases to be a prison.
Any good parent wants the best for their children. For their lives to be better than ours. That’s wonderful, even admirable, but anything taken to the extreme is wrong. There are bad things we have to deal with in this world. As a whole, by shielding our children from them, we are not equipping them with tools necessary for the remainder of their lives. If they do not learn those things from us, who will they learn from and what exactly will they learn? Our children will have hundreds of opportunities to have “friends”, but only two opportunities to have parents who love them enough to nurture, educate, guide, and set healthy boundaries.
I have childless friends who would give nearly anything for the chance to be parents. It's a gift, not an entitlement, deserving our best effort.