Different viewpoints. Who are more important for children – parents or peers?

In their book “Hold On to Your Kids”, the authors Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate claim that in our culture parents often let children rely and interact only with their peers in a so called “youth culture”, which is not good for children development. Children in essence need the safety of at least one adult that they can rely upon. The authors do not suggest, of course, to spend all the time with your kids, but to establish a reliable contact with kids, to have an attachment with them. In our culture, they write, it has become a rule to leave older children exceptionally with their peers.

This is one of the arguments: children learn values and rules about the world from others, and peers are not mature enough to transfer these values. If anything, from peers kids will learn immature strategies. Take language. Children will learn fewer words from their peers than from their parents. I try to imagine a situation of a child interacting only with peers. Most likely he could be an adolescent who is conflicting with his parents and following everything that his peers do including dying his hair in blue and listening to metal music. Parents accept the fact that their son is only interested in his peers and they do not interfere, ending not having contact with their son at all during the day.

In contrast, psychologist Peter Grey emphasizes, in his book “Free to Learn”, that parents and other adults almost destroyed the childhood by interfering with children. Parents most frequently communicate with children by imposing power, by showing their superiority. The typical communication between a parent and a child is that a parent tells something to do and a child is expected to obey. The author also gives an interesting example of a parent asking a question to a child: “what color is it?” and explains that this question is not authentic as a parent surely knows what the color is unless he or she is blind or colorblind. There is no need to pose such a question, and children would never pose such a dishonest question. Children, instead, ask when they surely do not know, they communicate equally with each other, negotiate about real problems.

I try to imagine a situation of a child who is constantly supervised by the adults. When he returns from the school where the teachers constantly tell what to do, parents constantly remind him to do homework, they finally end up doing homework together. When they go to a playground, a mother constantly is telling her child how to behave with other children and safeguard so that he does not injure himself. Sometimes a child has his friend over, but then a mother constantly supervises them. Probably the key word here is constantly: it is useful for a child that a parent teaches him something, that a parent helps, the problem appears when it happens constantly.

The question “Who are more important for children – parents or peers?” is not fair. Both parents and peers are essential to children, to my mind. We should ask how parents and peers behave with children. Until about the age of four, parents are the most important for a child. Later on a child’s goal is to separate from parents and to become an autonomous human being, this separation probably starts with “terrible two’s”. As much as it is important to respect this goal, parents are better off not leaving a child completely on his own. If a teenager declares that he hates holidays with his parents, does it mean that there are no more holidays with parents? Probably not – teenagers’ declaration that he hates his parents probably is no more than a cry for that independence and also for the help with difficult issues in his life.

The fact that children better off learning from their peers because they are equal touches upon another huge topic of parents’ behavior with their children. When parents are over controlling, of course it is better for a child with their peers. Children feel well and prosper when parents communicate with them with respect and out of curiosity instead of superiority. When playing with children, parents instead of imposing their own rules let their children direct a play. Instead of asking checking questions such as “what color is it?” parents pose questions of curiosity, such as “what color do you like?” Instead of supervising their children and their friends, parents leave more space on their own, without interfering. Instead of screaming in a playground “Be careful, you will soon injure yourself!” which does not reduce the incidence rate, parents better calmly talk to their child about safety in a playground before going there.