Dear Therapist:

We live in a duplex and are friendly with our neighbors. We do however have different parenting styles. Recently our 9-year-old daughter has become very friendly with the young girl next door. She spends hours on end there and seems to enjoy being there much more than home. I kind of see where she is coming from as there are practically no rules and not much in the way of supervision either. There is no moderation and things that are treats in our house can be done whenever. While we encourage our children to read we are always careful to monitor their reading material; it doesn't seem like something our neighbors would be on top of. We are OK with a kosher video once in a while, but she will watch for hours when she is there and when she comes home, she is really whiney and cranky with her eyes glazed over. We feel a little stuck, they are after all next door, and there isn't much we can do to keep her away. We can't expect someone else to change how they parent and I don't think they would even get what we are saying if we discussed it with them. On the other hand, we aren't happy with the influence it is having on her but given that we can't figure out what to do we have just let it go on and the problem is definitely not solving itself. What can the panelists suggest?

 

Response:

No two people parent exactly alike. This is true even for two parents of the same kids, so it will obviously be the case for parents of different children with differing backgrounds, experiences, personalities, and philosophies. It is only natural that we would encounter situations in which our rules and values are not being upheld. Much as we might want to, we cannot contain our children within a bubble indefinitely.

It seems that you don’t know exactly how concerned you need to be. You are aware of certain things, but appear to be making assumptions about others. For instance, you don’t know the degree to which these parents censor reading materials, but are reacting to your sense that they are likely not on top of it. You are also assuming that they are parenting the way that they believe is best.

I wonder what your concern is about discussing with them your concerns. You seem to as worried about the other parents’ reaction to such a discussion as you are about your daughter’s welfare. If you are truly concerned that your daughter’s association with these neighbors might cause issues for her, shouldn’t that warrant a conversation. At the very worst, you will have a strained relationship with your neighbors, but your daughter will spared any issues that could arise from her association with them.

You mention that you are friendly with these neighbors. Perhaps you are projecting your feelings about having your parenting style maligned. Your neighbors may not react similarly. In fact, they may be having trouble parenting in the way that they believe is right—which may be very similar to your style. You may be pleasantly surprised by their reaction.

Another thing to consider is the extent to which you need to protect your daughter from outside influences versus helping her to make appropriate decisions. Our instinct as parents is often to protect our children from exposure to anything that could lead to problems. However, sometimes we are “protecting” them from learning how to make proper decisions, and in fact how to generally navigate their way through life. Each situation should be analyzed to determine which aspects need to be removed and which can be used as a learning experience. Naturally, as kids get older and more mature, we will lean more to the latter and move further from the former.

Simply put, the question comes down to whether we can better teach our children by removing them from a particular situation, or by utilizing the situation to help them learn to make proper choices.

-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

 psychotherapist in private practice

 Brooklyn, NY

 author of Self-Esteem: A Primer

 www.ylcsw.com / 718-258-5317