By Themba Khumalo

Our children – unlike those of us who grew up before the internet era – are laden with an array of activities that are buffers that hinder them from facing the challenges of growing up. So, as a 21st century parent you are compelled to be present and pay attention and do it the healthy way.
I emphasise, it behoves us as parents, amid the massive challenges our children face today than we did, to provide direction.
It can be a daunting task because there is no manual on how to do it the healthy way. It is a learn-as-you-go minefield.
There are parents who tend to overcompensate because when they grew up life leaned heavily on the tough and rough side. A sizeable number of us are products of an era when lack was the norm and to delete that past we tend to do too much for our children.
Those in the know will tell you that doing too much for children is as bad as giving them no supervision at all.
This overcompensating is one of the reasons so many young people today have a gargantuan sense of entitlement which, when ignored, drives them to rough bouts of anxiety and/or depression.
You have probably seen parents who plead and bargain with their children. They rustle up ineffective attempts to get children to mentally subscribe to the “respectable behaviour”. They go to as far as loading children with money, latest hi-tech gadgets and all gimmicks which regrettably end up producing a hedonistic kid with a sense of entitlement and a phony sense of security.
Our parents were not perfect also because perfect parenting belongs to TV stories. There existed a period when the parenting approach had fathers and mothers resorting to excessive backlash, reacting with less than appropriate force or intensity or going into total denial.
Where I was born and bred, eKhenza in Soweto, there were parents who made excuses for their murderous children’s behaviour. They fell short of selling their limbs to protect the thuggish behaviour of their children. They provided wrong protection and choices versus guidance. They triggered confusion in children when all that was required was creating boundaries and giving direction.
There were parents whose interaction with their children was reserved for unleashing a tirade of harsh words, beatings and exerting destructive pressure. These are the types who demanded nothing less than top academic performance and all other imaginary acts of perfection.
Unfortunately, this placed tremendous stress on children which ultimately led to depression and limited the freedom to make their own choices in life. A number of those who were subjected to this militaristic parenting have become overcompensating and/or emotionally detached from their children.

It is worth taking into consideration that not every child-rearing form is in the child’s best interest. Psychologists have pointed out there is a thing called over-parenting.
This, they reckon “can cripple children as they move into adulthood and render them unable to cope with the merest setbacks”.
There exists, among us, parents whose style of raising children is akin to “eagle-eye parenting”, where children are overly supervised to keep them out of harm’s way. There is also “street truck sweeping parenting”, whose function is to remove any potentially hazardous obstacles from a child’s path. These habits have the potential of harmfully impacting a child’s future self-determination. Experts say it can lead to problems with mental health and create a sense of low self-esteem.
Detached parenting
There are parents who are emotionally detached from their children. I heard some people call it “undersized parenting”. Research has proven that absence of parental emotional engagement results in unwholesome behavioural patterns in children. An emotionally detached parent leaves the child no choice but to be too dependent on peer influences and social media.
Emotionally disconnected parents are not responsive in moments when emotions are anticipated. They lack the aptitude to extend their emotional responses in the face of a child’s emotional needs. While there may be no precise guidebook on how emotionally absent parents act, an article penned by states the following:
According to Nancy Denq and Sarah Epstein, both marriage and family therapists, common signs include the following:
● They lack the ability to “mirror” (reflect the same emotional state that a child is experiencing).
● They respond to children’s emotions with impatience or indifference.
● They avoid or prevent discussion of negative emotions.
● They’re dismissive or overwhelmed when the child has in emotional need.
● They’re not interested in the child’s life (interests, friend groups, school work).
● They have difficulty expressing their feelings, even with adults.
● They’re unable or unwilling to provide comfort during emotional distress.
● They’re unwilling to engage in any feelings — positive or negative.

The also talks about Dr Zeynep Biringen’s emotional availability assessment model which includes other signs, such as:
● They neglect a child’s basic needs or offer only the most basic level of care.
● They behave hostilely or intrusively toward the child.
● They freely express negative emotions such as frustration, annoyance or boredom during interactions with the child.
● They act as though the child is incapable of doing age-appropriate tasks.

A teenager’s tale of an
emotionally detached mother
I’m my daddy’s daughter more than I am my mother’s. The woman I call my mother is an emotionally detached person.
All she does are the basics and she has a sickening habit of putting up a façade in the presence of visitors. In the absence of visitors I feel rejected.
In my memory, never once do I remember her ever expressing love towards my siblings and me. It is something she is completely incapable of; that much I have deduced.
Her obsession is with her mobile phone and partying. Every time I see her on the phone, I feel unwanted, angry and jealous because she is more focussed on her friends or whoever it is that tickles her fancy.
I don’t have any recollection of receiving emotional support from her, except from my dad. I have no emotional connection with the woman who is supposedly my mother. If I need help with anything, I’d rather talk to my dad because my cries to emotionally connect with her go unnoticed.
What I find strange is that if I put one foot wrong she beats the living daylights out of me. As a girl I need my mother’s emotional connection, attention, positive affirmations, support, encouragement, nurturing, love and affection; I realise it will never happen.
I’m grateful for the presence of my dad, otherwise I would have long fallen into a dark pit of negative emotions; mood swings, depression, inability to emotionally connect with others, anxiety, stress, inability to speak up for myself when an occasion calls for it.
With her not connecting with me emotionally fills me with a fear that a time will come when I will not talk to her because she is one of the causes of my distress. I have mixed emotions…I don’t think I can ever trust her. The uncomfortable and scary part is that I do not love her as a daughter should love a mother. As for respect, I have none whatsoever.
I don’t openly deal with her badly, but I will forever keep my distance in any manner necessary.

I have sought counselling for this teenager before she completely loses all her marbles. The ultimate objective of parenting is to do our utmost best to be loving and caring but firm, while allowing children room to choose their interests, to delve into individuality, and to encounter failure.

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