I read a TON of books on various subjects including parenting for both professional and personal reasons. But very rarely does a book grab my attention the way that this book has. As the name itself suggests, this book is about parenting but it differs from the other books I have read on this topic in a very important way. It brought to my notice a phenomenon many of our children (especially in the urban areas) are facing today but mostly goes unnoticed and under the radar by their parents. It is the phenomenon of "peer orientation".
Before I delve briefly on what "peer orientation" is about I would like to highlight a few of the other points that the authors make in this book. Parental influence has always been well established over generations and is considered indisputable and irreplaceable, but sadly that is no longer true in many ways in today's world. The problems that our children face today has reached epic proportions both in terms of mental and physical health. Mental health issues like depression and anxiety, lack of self control, bullying, suicide, loss of resiliency, stress have increased exponentially. If these issues had not been there and our children were well adjusted, settled and positively grounded and content we would not need to worry much, but that is not the case in many societies across the globe. Parents have as much love, concern and good intentions for their children as did the preceding generations and there is a lot of parenting literature to help them. Inspite of this, something has shifted fundamentally and this book should serve as a wake-up call for you are much as it did for me.
As the authors have pointed out, the entire context in which parenting takes place has changed. As a result, the role of the parent is being undermined by forces that most parents are not aware of and are not ready to deal with. The critically important attachment relationship between parents and their children which is at the foundation of parenting is in danger. The authors put forward powerful reasons why this is so and show in this book why the main and the most damaging reason is the competing attachments that children today are developing with their peers.
The authors call this "peer orientation". This competing attachment is undermining parental authority and also diminishing the attachment that the child needs to have with the parent as long as the child needs to be parented.
The book brings about a few critical points about "peer orientation" and some of the important ones are
- children like any other warm blooded mammals have a natural instinct for orientation; they need to be guided and nurtured by someone
- children cannot be oriented both towards adults and their peers at the same time; they must necessarily CHOOSE between the two
- even though this phenomenon is now becoming "normal", it is not "natural" or "healthy" and has negative consequences in the long run
We need to become conscious of this need for attachment that all humans have (adults and children). This is what creates communities, families and keeps us all connected emotionally, psychologically, behaviorally and physically with each other. This connection could be taken for granted in many ways in the preceding generations. But that no longer holds true for us today.
The book describes in details the six different ways of attaching- senses, sameness, belonging and loyalty, significance, feeling and being known. If these bonds of attachment are strong and development is healthy, these facets are interwoven closely into a strong bond and children will find ways of staying close and holding on even when physically apart from their parents. However, peer oriented children live in a world filled with severely limited and superficial attachments driven by the least vulnerable way of attaching- sameness. This explains their need to resemble one another in look, behaviour, thoughts, tastes and values.
The other disturbing revelation for me was the false independence that a peer oriented child portrays and which seems to be a good thing. On the contrary, they are still dependent but now they depend on their peers for guidance - a set of people who are NOT truly dependable, mature, appropriate, responsible or compassionate.
Many parents do intuitively know and sense that something is just not right with their relationship with their children but may not know what is exactly wrong. Beneath many parent's anger and frustration of failing to connect and parent their children lies a sense of hurt and betrayal. This intuitive feeling is usually ignored and pushed under the carpet by relegating this to "normal teenage issues" or some other such cause. This works for many parents till it stops working at all. In an extreme situation, this can end with a teen committing suicide as she is unable cope with or has problems getting along with her peers. Usually though, this plays out in the forms of rude behaviour, name calling, increased aggression, bullying, precocious sexuality all of which are discussed in details in this book.
Collecting and reclaiming our children
The good news is, however, that this book also discusses in details how to "reclaim our children". For those children who are not very far down the roads with peers can be "collected" and the attachment relationship can be strengthened in four simple ways- get in the child's face or space in a friendly way, provide something for the child to hold on to, invite independence and act as the child's compass point.
For those children who are too insulated by peer attachments will need additional efforts which are explained in the chapters towards the end of the book-
Preserve the ties that empower
Discipline that does not divide
Don't court the competition
Recreate the attachment village
The last chapter also deals with the role that technology plays in our children's lives and in the parent- child relationship. I am very wary not about the digital revolution per se but about the negative impact it has on children who are too young to handle it. Timing is everything and it is as true in the case of digital gadgets or video games as it is in the case of alcohol or sex with regards to children.
I love this quote from the last chapter
"We want children to be fulfilled with what they truly need before they have access to that which would spoil their appetite for what they truly need"
I hope this book review has opened your eyes to the issues that you may be facing yourself with your children or some other family you know may be facing. Let this serve as a wake up call for you (as it has for me) and also give you HOPE that there is a lot that can be done to undo the damage. We need to be aware of this if we are to raise children who mature into compassionate, genuinely independent, resilient adults who go on to lead purposeful lives and contribute to society.
I had written about raising children who are resilient in my earlier post "To Raise Resilient Kids, Be a Resilient Parent" and you can read it HERE.