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The Growing Influence of Kids

Bill Radke

Millie Jefferson

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"I'll have the enchiladas!"
(Millie Jefferson)
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Children and young adults seem to be gaining more and more influence on the decisions of their parents. The environmental movement, for example, benefits from young people badgering their parents to "go green." It's natural to want to "empower" kids as they get older. But are we giving our kids too much power? Julie Ross has some ideas about this -- she is a family therapist and a parent herself.

Bill Radke: Why is the modern child so influential?

Julie Ross: I think there are probably a number of reasons. One, I think, has to do with exposure -- kids today are exposed to so much more than, say, if you rolled back time to the '50s. I also think that parents are increasingly distracted. Parents are often on their mobile phones, they are using the computer and they often have full-time jobs -- so the amount of time they spend with their children is very small. I think the statistics are two hours a day for mothers and under an hour per day for fathers. What this means is that I think there is a level of guilt that didn't exist before. So one way of connecting with kids is to enter discussions and kind of allow that influence to happen, or handing over material goods instead of time.

Children often have youthful idealism that can be welcome. What's so wrong with them influencing their parents' decisions?

I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with it -- I think in fact, as you say, that there is a lovely naivety, a lovely honesty that's not jaded that can be very helpful, actually, in certain things. But I think one of the things that has happened over time is that the boundary between parent and child, and the role of parent and child, and the responsibilities of parent-versus-child have gotten blurred. What that means is that for certain things like the "go green" campaigns that are going on, or "no smoking" campaigns, those are positive ways in which children can influence the world. But I think there are lines that are crossed because, along with that kind of unjaded quality, there's a lack of wisdom too.

Why are you so passionate on this point, Julie? Why is this of such interest to you?

You know, it's really of interest to me because what I and other parent-educators see in today's world is a growing sense of entitlement among kids -- that they should have the best designer clothes, that they should have the iPhone instead of a regular cell phone... And along with that, I see the power of parents slipping away. It's creating a generation of children who are entitled and yet don't feel particularly safe in their environment. If the grown-ups don't have the decision-making power, if the grown-ups don't end up standing up for what they believe in and, you know, making more of some of these adult-like decisions, then the child really ends up with too much power. That is power that the child inherently knows they are not capable of handling. It creates a sense of insecurity in the world in which they live.

What is your guidance, Julie? How do you suggest a healthy way to include children in adults' decisions?

You know, to tell you the truth, I think parents need to take more time with their kids. That would reduce the level of guilt that a lot of parents feel in not being committed to playing baseball in the backyard, and instead trying to get that "quality time" in during a discussion about who I should vote for.

  • Music Bridge:
    Dead Weird Keks
    Artist: Global Goon
    CD: Family Glue (Audio Dregs)


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  • By Charity Upchurch

    From Bellevue, NE, 04/12/2008

    I am a student teacher, and this segment echoes the wisdom of my mentor educators. Thank you for reinforcing these important concepts. I ran to my computer right after I listened to the segment to forward these comments.

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