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Tough love

What modern families are missing

Artillery Row

In the show “The World’s Strictest Parents”, mothers set “boundaries” for their children through rigorous consequences: push-ups, spending the night on the porch, mucking out horse stalls and more. In much of the Western world, this would be an alien concept, viewed with dismay by the youth. Not many want to live in a domineering environment.

For me, this type of parenting was a fact of life. Throughout all my teenage years, my upbringing was very structured; I had boundaries, I had curfews and I had rules which I absolutely had to adhere to. To many of my friends and as well as myself, my life seemed like a living nightmare as we wondered how exciting my teenage years would be if I had more independence.

I have since come to realise that my upbringing as a teenager, which I detested so much at the time, was an advantage. It was responsible for many of the sensible choices I have made in my life. 

Friends told me about their drunken nights of regrets

Thanks to the guidance of my overbearing parents, I did not engage in destructive behavior like my peers did, despite countless opportunities. When I attended university, I witnessed students engage in rebellious activities without much thought. I heard horrifying stories of impressionable students becoming addicted to drugs after a naive encounter at campus. Friends told me about their drunken nights of regrets, often admitting they wished they had thought more wisely about their spontaneous decisions.

During these long heart-to-hearts, we all assured each other that mistakes are to be learnt from. I saw their extreme rebellion in a different light, however, once I realised that they lacked guidance from more experienced figures in their life. My “overbearing” relationship with my parents, notwithstanding its drawbacks, in fact made us closer. The curfews which ruined my opportunities to socialise at night with friends, meant I spent quality time with my family. These were the times when I received my most important guidance.

Some might say that under such circumstances, parents can become too authoritative. With empathy and understanding, such a parenting style can nonetheless lead to heightened emotional stability. Ultimately, structured parenting, through love, care and support can help young people instil better judgement and lead a healthier life into adulthood. This type of relationship is scarce in the Western world. What’s more, it is seen with contempt and disregarded as “infantile” and “abnormal” by elements within our individualistic culture.

In Britain, most teenagers move out to pursue work and education, often attracted by the prospects of living in big cities, exciting nightlife and being part of bourgeois, metropolitan culture. “Home” is just a place which needs to be escaped, rather than a place of support. Similarly, for some career driven parents, having their children living at home can be seen as a burden.

Clearly, leaving home is a teenage dream

A survey of “Young People’s Social Attitudes” asked British teenagers for their opinions about leaving home. Nearly 50 per cent of twelve to fifteen-year-olds thought that teenagers should leave home at the age of sixteen, 12 per cent said at age seventeen, and 8 per cent said “when they want”. Nearly a quarter of young teenagers believed that they should only be obliged to live at home until they were eighteen years old.

Clearly, leaving home is a teenage dream — but the age of independence comes with difficulties. As we live in a more atomised, self-serving culture, divorced from close relationships, it should be asked, are some of the problems facing young people today due to overly liberal parenting?

Countless studies reveal that poor family relationships during early life can have long-term negative effects on a person’s health. According to the sociological concept of “primary socialisation”, people build themselves through experiences mostly at home with close family relationships early on in life. Certain outcomes in an individual’s life cannot be understood without recognition of familial relationships, which is why we see persistent issues like mental health on the rise in young people today. 

According to WHO, mental health conditions account for 16 per cent of the global burden of disease in people aged ten to nineteen years. Having a close relationship with family in adolescence may help lower the risk of developing depression as an adult, according to a study of 18,000 people, aged twelve to forty-two, by sociologists at North Carolina University. Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health showed that people with positive familiar relationships experienced fewer depressive symptoms.

Loneliness in young people is up 40 per cent since last spring

It is not surprising to learn that loneliness is at an all time high in young people today. According to the Office for National Statistics, almost one in 14 people aged sixteen and above in Great Britain say they are lonely, up 40 per cent since last spring. For those who are fortunate to grow up in a close family, this may not be a worry, as they will have the mentorship of their loved ones. Parents who are deeply involved in the lives of their children are instrumental to providing vulnerable adolescents with sufficient access to support and attention. 

Other problems resulting from a dysfunctional family can sometimes be more existential, as young people are left with a lack of direction and a sense of purpose. The bubble of modern culture collectively fails to address how a lack of community, belonging and support disorients people. This is why having a strong family bond is so critical, as it teaches us to have a greater sense of our identity, making us less likely to succumb to societal pressures.

Despite these societal issues, the goal of a closer relationship with our parents and family is barely encouraged. In fact, the mainstream narrative is that it constrains people’s lives. As we witness a once self-confident society crumble into existential crisis, we should realise that purpose, meaning and value are underlying foundations of life built by staying close to our family, rather than fragmenting into an isolated, atomised social structure.

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