Matt (not his real name) was a pretty good kid. He never got into much trouble. But I had talked with his grandma on a Sunday about some things that were happening in his life, and the first time that I actually met Matt face to face was through the bars of his county jail cell.
I have plenty of experience working with prisoners, even prisoners who were in prison for heinous crimes. But this was the first teen I had ever met accused of first-degree murder.
As the guard escorted us to the visitor’s room, Matt shuffled along with his head bowed and shoulders sunken. He had a look of defeat, and the other prisoners could see that as well. That much was evident from the yells and cat calls coming from the other cells.
We sat and talked for several hours. He steadfastly maintained his innocence. Throughout the entire judicial process, we met every week and talked for hours. Through those conversations I learned his version of the story.
His mom allowed him to do whatever he wanted. His dad was who knows where, and his mom had long ago given up trying to rein in his wild behavior. Matt said he loved his mom so he would try and not do anything too dumb, but the group he ran with was getting increasingly dangerous.
One night after one too many drinks, the group hatched a plan to rob a local recluse who was reportedly independently wealthy. The plan was that a girl in the group would be the one to knock on the door and claim that her car had broken down. When the older man opened the door and heard her story, the other boys would rush in and bind and gag him. They would then be free to take their time and get as much loot as they could fit in their vehicle. Matt was to be the driver and come over when they called and said it was done.
Matt sat and waited for the phone call thinking about bailing on the plan. Just then the phone rang and he answered. “It’s done,” said the voice on the other end. So Matt got in his car and drove over to the victim’s home.
What he saw there was not what he was expecting. Instead of an old man tied to a chair, there was a dead body lying in the hallway with a pool of blood spreading from the bullet wound in his head. Matt said he was terrified and tried to leave but that the two boys that did the killing warned him he could be next.
They loaded up the car and went into hiding. But as teen boys often do, they began to brag about their exploits, and in the next few days state police rounded all of them up and put them in separate jails and prisons.
I was stunned at this tale. I wondered where his parents were. I wondered where the other teens’ parents were. I wondered how these kids got to where they were at now.
Every teen in this story had a parent or parents who were permissive. Maybe you’ve never heard the term, but you know what parents I’m talking about. They have very few rules, and the rules or expectations they do have are scattershot and inconsistent. They allow their child to stay out all hours of the night and dress how they want. They often “bribe” their students into behaving or not causing trouble. Permissive parents often behave like a friend to their child and do things most regular parents would never dream of. These are the parents that allow drinking parties in their home because “at least they aren’t out drinking and driving.”
The problem with this style of parenting is that the outcome is just as damaging, and in many cases, more damaging than the helicopter parenting we’ve looked at the last few weeks.
In an article published by Parenting Science, Dr. Gwen Dewar sited several studies linking permissive parenting to such things as failing and misconduct at school, higher percentages of abusing alcohol and drugs, being more aggressive and even higher body mass indexes (BMI) than students without permissive parents.
I have witnessed how this can affect students and have seen that they can be self-involved and selfish. Children of permissive parents, in my experience, have a harder time with sympathy and empathy. They often lack self-discipline and motivation. And worst of all, because their parents told them through lack of boundaries that they are not important, they have a deficiency of self-worth. All of this adds up to students who are set up for failure in the real world.
Here are some things you can do to guard against being a permissive parent.
Set clear boundaries and consequences.
Your children crave restrictions. They need you to tell them you love them by setting up boundaries that protect them. When all they hear is “Yes” or “I don’t care” the child will begin to feel that their parents really don’t care. Parents must realize that saying I love you means sometimes saying no.
Parents need to be clear about the consequences of breaking these rules and boundaries. And when an offense does happen, parents must follow through with consequences. To not do so communicates that you don’t care. There are times that grace can happen and tells your children that you love them, but more often than not, children need to understand that negative things happen when rules are broken.
You are their parent, not their friend.
Friendships will blossom from the parent/child relationship when children are older and become adults. That’s a natural transition that happens in a healthy manner throughout time. But to try and be your teenager’s best friend is inappropriate and causes confusion in the parent/child role.
Parents who act like peers look as if they are living vicariously through their teens’ lives. They will try and dress the same, talk the same, listen to the same music and make every effort to be the cool parent. This can cause roadblocks in your child’s attempts to grow up, and doing so will only lead to further confusion in a relationship that needs healthy boundaries.
You are not their yes-man.
When my daughter was little she loved the Johnny Depp version of Willie Wonka. The character Veruca Salt is in the film. Her dad does anything and everything that she wants. He gives her everything and never says anything about her horrible behavior. Veruca’s dad was a yes-man.
You are not your children’s slave. You do not need to cater to their every wish and whim. To do so will retard their maturity and create brats. Your children will believe that this is the way the world works, and we both know this to be very untrue!
Give your child chores and expectations for those chores to be done. They need to have responsibilities and understand what it means to be a functioning part of a family. Only you, the parent, can give them that.
As Matt’s trial got underway, it turned out that he was telling the truth and had nothing to do with the killing of this poor man. He was found innocent of first-degree murder and released with time served and probation. Two of his friends were convicted of first-degree murder and are now sitting in maximum-security prisons where they will spend the rest of their lives.
I encouraged Matt to move in with his grandmother, who would provide more guidance than his mom, and he did just that. With our help, he was able to get a job and started studying for his GED. He eventually graduated and went to a community college. I lost touch throughout the years, but I know that he at least started down a path that could lead to him putting the past behind him and having a successful future.
Matt is an extreme case in permissive parenting. Not all students with permissive parents will end up accused of a murder, but I have always wondered if that old man would have died quietly in his bed, if only a few parents had just learned to say no.