COLUMN: Getting too chummy with children does them a disservice

Tuesday, January 26, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 9:49 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A friend, who is one of those doting grandparents I keep talking about, was upset the other day. Having retired in the same neighborhood in which he grew up, he was complaining about the negative changes that have come about.

He told me that the young mothers who live next door to him now are so unlike the mothers of his day that he finds it hard to believe they belong to the same species. He said these households seem to be run by teenagers who come and go whenever they please, in and out of the house, at all hours of the day and night.

Now, my friend also has teenage grandchildren, for whose sake and in whose name he would take on the Taliban. But they live across town in somebody else’s neighborhood, so who runs his children’s households he doesn’t know. And whatever day or night hours they keep is unknown to him. But one thing is for sure: When arguments arise in his family, the grandkids can always count on Grandpa to be on their side.

And then there’s the work issue. When my friend was growing up, he and the other boys in the neighborhood each had a number of families for whom they took care of the lawns in the summer and kept the sidewalks free of snow in the winter. This was how they earned money for movies and model racing cars, and how they contributed to their college funds. Nowadays my friend complains that he has to hire a lawn service to take care of his property.

He mentions, too, that in his old neighborhood people used to share a connection with each other because what affected one family usually affected them all. When the fire station was too far from the neighborhood, the neighbors pulled together and got a station closer to their area; they did the same with the police station. In other words, people took care of each other. Instead of Facebook and Twitter, their social network was the people who lived in the neighborhood.

OK, so this was an old friend and I try to be a good listener. I listen to people like him all the time who complain about the way things are. But finally, I ask them how he thinks things got to be this way. After all, we live by the law of cause and effect. Now that we’ve talked about the effect, I asked him, what do you think was the cause?

Well, it beat the heck out of him, or so he said. Deep down I suspect he knows what went wrong, but like so many others of his generation, he is in denial. During his childhood, he experienced the kind of upbringing that was based on agricultural values his parents brought with them from their days on the family farm. He was taught the virtues of hard work and earning your way through life, and he learned about deeply rooted family values that taught you to care for your neighbors and friends the same way you care for your own.

But in later years, when he married and began to raise his family, he began to listen to new voices with modern philosophies about child rearing. After all, children had rights too, he learned, and parents should try to be friends with their children. Like other modern parents, he abandoned his role as parent and became a friend to his children. Then his children grew up, married and produced children of their own. They, too, joined the ranks of parents who adopt the fashionable philosophies of the day on the subject of child care.

Portions of this scenario or similar ones have been played out in generations of families across the country. So many grandchildren must now reckon with a world they are ill-prepared to deal with or even understand because they have been deprived of the strong foundation they need in order to build successful lives. My friend realizes this and it makes him sad; too late, he wishes to correct his errors.

Fortunately, he can support his grandchildren and their families for the rest of his life.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at


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Allan Sharrock January 26, 2010 | 3:46 p.m.

I think you hit the nail on the head with this article.

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