According to Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate, authors of Hold On to Your Kids, parents need to matter more than peers. As a parent with a preteen, my child is often being invited to friends’ houses for, what I consider, unusually extended sleep-overs, which leave me feeling old-fashioned for wanting to spend quality time with my kids on the weekends. So I was interested to learn more about how peer orientation stunts healthy growth, especially since it seems like I’m always coming across advice to “let go” of my kids as they age. Once I discovered why it’s so problematic for teens, in particular, to value peers over parents, this title took a place on my must-read list.
“For the first time in history young people are turning for instruction, modeling, and guidance not to mothers, fathers, teachers, and other responsible adults but to people whom nature never intended to place in a parenting role – their own peers,” argue Neufeld and Mate. They define this phenomenon, which has taken place over the last fifty years, as peer orientation. Neufeld and Mate explain that it “masquerades as natural or goes undetected because we have become divorced from our intuitions and because we have unwittingly become peer-oriented ourselves.”
The authors also share the results from a fascinating, international study, which links the breakdown of this vertical transmission of mainstream culture to increases in youth crime, violence, bullying, and delinquency. This trend in peer orientation parallels a fourfold increase in suicides over the last fifty years in the ten-to-fourteen age range in North America, explain Neufeld and Mate. The authors believe, “The more peers matter, the more children are devastated by the insensitive related of their peers, by failing to fit in, by perceived rejection or ostracization.”
That’s not to say that the authors are against your child becoming independent, but they define “healthy” teenage rebellion, as the attempt to define oneself part from both family and friends. What is happening more often is that teenagers are replacing their parents with their peers, and as a result, they are unable to grow up into healthy adults. “Children may know what they want, but it is dangerous to assume that they know what they need,” maintain Neufeld and Mate. “To the peer-oriented child it seems only natural to prefer contact with friends to closeness with family, to be with them as much as possible, to be as much like them as possible.”
With communication technology changing more rapidly than ever, it has unfortunately only exacerbated the problem. Neufeld and Mate explain, “We have unwittingly put it into the hands of children who, of course, are using it to connect with their peers. Because of their strong attachment needs, the contact is highly addictive, often becoming a major preoccupation.” That’s why it’s important that we enforce the typical, original reason for the purchase of such technology – easy communication between parent and child.
Hold Onto Your Kids reviews how since World War II, we’ve become a culture of missing attachments. Modern America stands in stark contrast to the traditional, multigenerational cultures of our past. As a result, the authors believe that the “natural order has been subverted.” While Neufeld and Mate are quick to clarify that two working parents are not the problem, they do identify the lack of consideration many people give to attachment as problematic. “Because caring for the young is undervalued in our society, day care is not well funded. It is difficult for a nonrelative to meet an individual child’s attachment and orienting needs fully, especially if several other infants and toddlers are vying for that caregiver’s attention,” argue Neufeld and Mate. Add onto this geographic dislocations and the deterioration of the extended family unit, children are much less likely to learn from elders, who are committed to their welfare, claim Neufeld and Mate.
Therefore, “The secret to parenting is not in what a parent does but rather who the parent is to a child,” believe Neufeld and Mate. In other words, Neufeld and Mate write, “The power to execute our parental responsibilities lies not in the neediness of our children but in their looking to us to be the answer to their needs.” Ultimately, what Hold Onto Your Kids maintains is that attachment can help a parent protect a child, much in the same way the main character of the critically acclaimed film, Life is Beautiful, did during World War II.
While you might not be able to change what’s going on in the world, you can make sure you aren’t prematurely replaced by following the advice in this book. It closes with powerful chapters on “Discipline that Doesn’t Divide” and “Re-Create the Attachment Village.” So whether it’s establishing the proper hierarchy in your home or keeping your children’s loyalty as they grow up, I highly recommend Hold Onto Your Kids, for Neufeld and Mate will help parents preserve the ties that empower their children.