What is normal?
What is “normal behavior for our children? When they are young we come up with cute expressions for their behavior like “the terrible twos or “the tantrum threes and “the fiendish fours. We come to accept that all of us as parents go through this with our children. Dr. Ari Brown, the author of Toddler 411 says that “Most toddlers begin testing limits shortly after their first birthday and continue until about age four.
So, if testing limits is a natural part of children forming their own identity, and if as parents, we all go through this, how do we label their behavior as they get older? Will we still simply accept how they “act and behave as a normal part of growing up?
Labels we use
What are some other labels we use as they test our limits?
- Is a child who tests limits when they are 6 or 9 simply spirited? Strong-willed? Independent?
- Are a teenager’s actions just part of being a teenager? Puberty?
- What do expressions like “boys being boys mean? What does that look like when they are in their late teens or early twenties and are becoming men? How then are they to act?
- When our children head off on their own towards college or wherever, does our new expression become; they are just acting like “college kids? Isn’t that just another way of saying everyone acts that way?
Those labels sound a lot like a list of ways we as parents continue to define the behavior as normal in order to rationalize how they are acting. Rationalization, left unchecked, simply becomes self-justification. By rationalizing, justifying, labeling, and identifying it as normal we as parents and a culture often are trying to free ourselves from any guilt we might have in how we behaved during those same periods of life. But where has this sense of normal gotten us as a culture?
The New Normal
At the Paul Anderson Youth Home, normal now looks like this:
- 92% have viewed pornography by age 13
- 75% have had sex by age 15
- On average, they have had close to 8 sexual partners
- 62% have used drugs by age 14
- On average they have used at least 8 different types of drugs
What we as an organization are seeing as “normal is that these trends are happening at earlier and earlier ages. The avalanche of statistics available illustrate that the same behaviors at earlier ages are emerging nationally as well. The bottom line is youth are being impacted by the “new normal at earlier and earlier ages. Meanwhile, we as parents and a society continue to label the behavior of testing limits in the same way. Normal.
So when more and more kids engage at earlier and earlier ages in high risk behaviors, have we merely moved the age down as what we accept to be normal? Are we comfortable with the terms?
- Kids being kids.
- Boys being boys.
- Girls being girls.
- Students being students.
Calling “it what “it is…concession
Let’s begin to truly call it what “it is; we as parents have conceded the ground and are allowing our parenting and our children to be far more defined by these terms than we have been willing to establish what we as parents call acceptable and normal.
As our children get older, our sons and daughters do not stop testing the limits, they simply have moved beyond tantrums and have become more sophisticated at how they push back. Adapting your parenting as your child grows up is a constant challenge. Moms and dads, you must be willing to change your style at times based on the needs of your children and how they are responding to you as well as how they are interacting with their peers as the culture around them changes. Changing your style does not mean conceding the ground. Your goal and objective is the same; it just means at times your tactic or approach is different based on the needs and circumstances of your child. So, what will be normal in your home?
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