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Any wall has two sides, and there is a kind of wall between parents and children that each helps create and reinforce, particularly in adolescence. This wall is a barrier that serves to not allow a parent and child to know what the other is doing or has done. Let's look at the wall from both sides and then discuss how it could be eliminated, if that is a desirable goal.
Children, especially adolescents, must pull away from their parents in order to grow into adulthood. And in doing so, they erect a zone of privacy around themselves, a wall, really, so they can think their own thoughts, pursue their own opinions and interests, and most particularly, prevent their parents from knowing what they are doing, since they are often doing things their parents would disapprove of, such as choosing bad friends, experimenting with drugs, or skipping school. Parental knowledge of much adolescent behavior has consequences no adolescent appreciates. Hence, a wall is created.
There are many parents who put up a wall to protect their children from their own behavior and to prevent themselves from seeming to be poor role models for their children. Few parents, until their children are much older, will allow their children to know what they themselves did in their youth. How many parents have skipped school, experimented with drugs, stayed out past curfew, or drove far too fast? For that matter, there are parents who persist in bad behavior as their children grow, being dishonest in their dealings, not wearing seat belts, and so on. The list of parental bad behaviors is as endless as the list of adolescent bad behaviors. Yet we create a wall that we hope prevents our children from learning about bad behavior, past or present, because we do not want to be poor role models or give our children any new bad ideas. To give you a very recent example, just a few days ago, I told my youngest son, who is 23 and has acquired a little torch, that when I was about 5 years old, while my father was doing a roof repair and left me alone for three minutes, I took his lit torch and set a bucket of tar on fire. That is a confession I would not have made when he was younger because I would not have wanted him to get any bright ideas. So we create a wall on our side, too.
If you have read "Mending Wall," you will know that a wall is not necessarily a bad thing. In the case of parents and children, I am not sure whether this kind of wall is good, bad, or a bit of both. A wall is necessary so that children understand they are separate people, not simply extensions of their parents, so they can develop into full-fledged adults. And we really do not want children to know about all of our escapades, which might encourage them to behaviors that we do not want to see. However, to make the wall a bit less of an obstacle, it would be wonderful if parents and children could express to one another their understanding of the other's point of view. If I can tell my children that I understand how tempting some of the choices offered to them are, then we can have a more frank discussion of those choices, as opposed to having a knee jerk response of disapproval. If children can express to their parents that they do understand why parents express limits, more of a dialogue is possible.
In our society we are often self centered beings and rarely try to take an empathetic approach to problems in relationships. A wall that exists between a parent and a child can be related to discipline strategies. A child can often feel like he does not understand why he is being disciplined or be able to articulate the reason behind a specific punishment. If parents communicate with their child more and take an empathetic approach then the child has a better chance of understanding. Consequences can still be implemented for that child with an explanation as to why the specific consequences are being used for the unwanted behavior. If we are less self centered and consider even the feelings of the child involved those walls of misunderstanding will be broken down.
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