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23 Stupid Things Parents Do

To Mess Up Their Children's Lives

By Barrington H. Brennen, MA, NCP,  BCCP, August 14 2012

The List


The Explanations

The following brief explanations of the 23 stupid things parent do are not intended to be a total or exhaustive explanation of each stupid them.

Stupid Thing No. 1: Failure to start preparing your child for adulthood twenty years before they are born.  Parents must realize that the raising the child begins before he or she is conceived.  It my beliefthat the philosophies of life, lifestyle, beliefs, habits, thoughts, mannerisms, mode of expression, and behavior that one has before having children will definitely impact the way the parent treats the child.  Also the child will model what they see and perceive from their parents.   Hence, making sure that your lifestyle is positive before having children and that the lifestyle has been riveted in the genes long before becoming parents is most important.  Further, when a parent is raising his or her child he is actually raising his or her grandchild.  If we ignore the power of personal development and its impact on the offspring, there is a greater risk of raising delinquent children and grandchildren

Barrington H. Brennen

Barrington H. Brennen

Stupid Thing No. 2:  Not providing a peaceful environment before the child comes out of the womb.  It is imperative that parents/family (not only the pregnant mother) provide an environment of peace and harmony during pregnancy.  Psychologist in the book “Life Before Birth” says that loud, unexpected noises can shock your baby. If you feel a strong kick, your baby is probably trying to tell you to stop, not trying out a new dance move.”    Experts also say the unborn babies and recognize voice.  “Not only will your baby recognize your voice, he will recognize his father's voice, too, especially if Dad can rest his head on your belly and talk to his baby. After the birth, your baby should be able to recognize the voices of both of his parents. Nothing is more exciting than having your newborn baby seek you out just from hearing your voice and knowing that you are all bonding” (Life Before Birth).   In the online article “How a Parent’s Thoughts Shape Their Unborn Child’s Life” it states that “recent studies prove that 6 months into a pregnancy, the fetus is already aware, reacting and emotionally active. At 6 months, the unborn child can see, hear, experience, taste, feel and even learn.”  It further states that “On some level, what the pregnant mother feels emotionally is transferred directly to her unborn child. Because of this, constant negative emotions can have a damaging affect on the fetus.

The fetus absorbs negative emotions like anger, stress or frustration. Feelings most adults experience throughout their stressful days. However, the most harm is done when a mother doesn’t want the child. These and other negative emotions shape the baby’s personality.”  It is my view that one way of reducing the risk that your child will become violent is making sure that during pregnancy the environment is happy and peaceful.   It is also important that the mother emotionally calm, happy and radiant.

Stupid Thing No 3: Not setting boundaries from birth. Children thrive best in a structured, well-ordered environment.  This may include set times to eat, sleep, play; how and when to talk, guidelines for interaction with others, language usage, emotional expression, where to place things, etc.  A great advantage of structure is that it also provides “structure” for the parents.  Parents also need plenty of rest, good nutrition and peace of mind to be an effective parent and to respond wisely and not harshly to perceived disobedience from the children.  Structure builds discipline, independence, and self-control in children and thus adulthood.  If the child decides on his own when to eat and sleep their can be confusion, over work, and major conflict in the home.  Home without structure will most likly produce delinquent and/or violent, rude, and disrespectful citizens.

Stupid Thing No. 4: Not letting your children see you reading the newspaper and the Bible.  Intellectual and spiritual growth in children is very important. Understanding the children learn best by observing what other’s do, it is imperative that if parents want their children to have an interest in reading they must see their parents reading.  Children, especially the little one, will show interest to read what the she their parents reading.  This is why a balanced approach to reading is important.  Children can learn from very you that civics and religious growth are key components in life.   If the parent reads both the Bible and the newspaper the child will understand that there is more to life than just John 3:16.  They will learn will reading the newspaper how to apply that principle and how to relate to a real world in a Christ-like way.    Note carefully that reading builds a person.  Lack of television viewing will not hinder intellectual or emotional growth in a child.  Certainly, lack of reading can and will prevent proper intellectual and even physical growth in a child.  Parents, avoid purchasing a television if you have not purchased a book for your child.  It does not matter is the book in hardcopy or on a Kindle.  They are both effective.  You may regret purchasing a television but you will never regret purchasing books.


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Stupid Thing No. 5:  I can’t wait for you to bring home some grandchildren.”  Now this one is ridiculous.  I mentioned this because I have actually heard parent say this to their infants in the arms or to the energetic toddlers running around the house.   “What in the world is that all about?” the little child might be asking. The danger of this statement being said to dependent children is that it introduces a subject that the child is not equipped psychically, emotional or intellectually to understand.  Another point is that the parent or significant other making the statement is thinking of the little one as a progenitor or sex provider before he or she is a matured, well-adjusted individual.  The subtle message is “if you can make babies then you are okay.”   There much more to life than making babies.   This is one stupid this that truly distorting the minds of our young people today.

Stupid Thing No. 6:  Going to sleep before your children go to bed.   There is a principle I live by and that is to never go sleep at nights before your children do.  This is a big stupid thing parent do to mess of their children’s live especially if it is done with pre-teens.  Parents should either go to sleep the same time or after their children go to bed.  Noting first that children learn best by observation, many parents set a poor example for their children either by going to beg long before they do or by going to bed for too late at night.   One of the best gifts a parent can give a child is that of discipline.   Bedtime discipline is a life-long gift the child will unwrap throughout his or her life.  Also, most parents are not aware what takes place after they would have gone to sleep.  They instruct their little ones to go to bed but do not follow through to make sure they have gone to bed.  When children realize that they have this open-ended freedom in their own homes after dark they can become disobedient, disrespectful, and even confused.  Parents must realize that for children (age 3 to 19) to have optimum health they need between 9.2 to 16 hours of sleep a day.    Parents are to provide the discipline environment to ensure that his happens.  Therefore, there should be set times to go to bed for each age group.  Here are my suggested times to go to bed:  Ages 0 to 3: 21-14 hours of sleep a day.  Bed time at 6 p.m..  Ages 4 to 10: 14-12 hours of sleep each night. Bedtime at 7 p.m.   Ages 11 to 18: 10 to 12 hours.  Bedtime at 7:30 p.m. or 8 p.m.   Remember only adults can live healthily with eight hours of sleep each night.   Secondly, everyone needs at least four to five continuous hours of sleep each night for optimum health. 

Stupid Thing No. 7:  Not creating a schedule of chores for everyone in the house.   As mentioned in Stupid Thing No 3: “Not setting boundaries from birth”, children thrive best when there is structure in the home.  How can children develop a spirit of cooperation, accountability, reliability, and industriousness if parent do not “require” them to participate in household chores.   Children are to take part in making sure the environment they are living in is well managed.  The best time to start this is from the early years.  Even a one-year-old child can learn how to hold a brown and sweep (although they cannot do it perfectly).    Neglecting to include the children in taking care of the home can develop laziness, irresponsibility, and a spirit of entitlement. 


On the other hand, children are not to be used as slaves--doing all the work while the parents sleep or do nothing.  Children learn best by observing what others do.  What chores should the children participate in?  This might depend on the kind of chore and age of the child.   However, with a little creativity, most chores can include children of all ages.   For example, a parent can include a one-year-old in washing the dishes by having the child assist the parent.  Even if the child cannot wash or scrub the child can be asked to hold or move something or just play in the water.  This will be the beginning of learning that all activities/chores in the home are the responsibility of everyone.  


Before assigning chores parents should first make a list of all household chores.  Note that the cleaning of the child’s bedroom is not to be on the list.  The child should be taught that making up of his or her bed and cleaning of the bedroom is one of his or her daily responsibilities.  However, for little children, the parents would need to take the time to teach the child what to do and to assist the child for a few years.  Include on the list of chores all areas of the home that are used by everyone.  This may include the kitchen (which can be divided into different tasks like washing the dishes, dumping the trash, and general cleaning), family room, living room, general bathroom, garage, porch, back and front yard, utility, storage area, etc.   Persons can be assigned to clean each area on a week, a day or few days.  Note again that although parents are the overall supervisors, their names must also be on the list.  They must participate.


Stupid Thing No. 8:  Not respecting your children’s right to be stupid at times.  When parents are too rigid, cold, and do not engage in fun-time activities with their children are losing an opportunity to teach their children how to balance life with work and pleasure and how to value the ability to laugh, forgive, and share.   Children are not full of wisdom and would often do things that make no sense to the parents.  This is not referring to outright rebellion and disobedience but about the childish things children may do that parents often cannot understand.  Parents are to allow a little room for these “stupid things” but with guarded reasoning and supervision.  For example, while eating lunch the child might mix the peas and rice with the drink.  This is not a moment to punish the child but to teach the child why he should not do that.     This brings me to the next stupid thing parents do to mess of their children’s lives-– “Forgetting that you were once a teenager.”


Stupid Thing No. 9:  Forgetting that you were once a teenager.  One of the greatest gifts a parent can give a teenage child is for the parent to always remember that he was once a teenager.  He was once energetic, adventurous, bold, daring and sometime stupid.   One parent told me that remembering this keeps her sanity in place.  Remembering what you were when you were a teenager can help you be kinder and exhibit more grace.  It can also help the parent to be more understanding and forgiving.  I think parents forget that by nature teenagers are impulsive although not irrational.  Teenagers are creative and daring.   There is something good about these attributes.  When parents remember what they learned from their own “stupid” behaviors they should become more loving and understanding parents.   This does not suggest that parents should not maintain standards and principles of lifestyle in governing the home.  However, it should eliminate or at least reduce rigidity and inflexibility with in the home thus creating an environment of happiness and a safe place to share and grow. 


Stupid Thing No. 10:  Not spending enough time having fun with your children.   Another great gift a parent can give a child is that of spending time having fun and laughing with them.  If children only see their parents as disciplinarians or “police officers,” they will have difficulty becoming emotionally healthy and may develop a rigid, cold, and indifferent personality.  Also, having fun with children is what creates bonding.  Too many parents have little or no connections with their children.  When these same children become adults they might find it difficult connecting or closely bonding with their friends or mates


Stupid Thing No. 11:   Not letting your children see you kiss.   To raise healthy children sexually and emotionally it is imperative for parents not only to model positive behaviors such are good anger management, proper conflict resolution, kindness, etc., but to let their children see them sharing romantically, kissing and hugging gently.  I know some parents are shy or reluctant to do this.   But their doing more harm than good by being so reserved.  Children feel emotionally secured, bonded and happy when they know their parents are happy and loving to each other.  This emotional wellness starts when they see their parents hugging, kissing, holding each other and even holding hands while waking in the shopping center.   The first person your child should see kissing should be you, the parent, and not a stranger.  The first hug the child experience should come from the parent and not from a friend or a stranger.  On the other hand, parents should avoid extreme.   You child should not see you making love and having long, deep, passionate kisses.   There should be a healthy introduction of romance and avoid extreme exposure.   Parents should not expose their children to actual sexual encounters that are reserved for the privacy of the bedroom.  This can distort emotional development.  Research tells us that children exposed too early to sexual activities may become promiscuous or begin experimenting with sexual activities too early.  It is healthy for your child to see you embrace and have a kiss in small dosages, but caressing and fondling in front of your children many not be wise.  Note that while a healthy display of public affection is good for the parents it is also good for the children—the observers.


Stupid Thing No. 12:   Not letting your children see you settle simple differences effectively.  This is another example about modeling good behavior in front of your children.  If the child hears harsh, cold language between mom and dad, then that will be the behavior when the child becomes an adult.   If the child witnesses calms, non-conflicting language and actions, the risk of the child being violent is much less.  The very first school of conflict management is in the home where the child observes how mom and dad handle simple differences or minor conflicts.  When I meet a “rough,” “harsh,” “loud,” “boisterous” person who feels that his or her behavior is okay I am not surprise by their answer to the following question: “Were you parents loud, rough and boisterous when you were growing up?”   The answer is always yes.   Some would say they do not know any other way to behave or to talk.   These individuals often get in trouble in their romantic relationships.  They have to go through painful, but rewarding processing of learning new ways of talking, sharing and relating.  


Too many parents have ruined their children’s lives by not being gentle, not model good conflict management skills, or avoiding managing conflicts effectively in front of their children.   Many years ago I heard this anecdote that will illustrate the point.  I share this story in my seminars.  A boy grew up in a home where he saw he mom and dad handle conflict in a very strange when.  Whenever his mom and dad felt that their discussion in front of their child was about to get into angry outbursts, they would go into the bedroom and close the door to complete the “fight.”   This is how they handled their conflicts.  One week after the son’s wedding day he was having an argument with his wife.  Then he remembered what his mom and dad did when they were having a “fight.”  He took his wife hand and went into the bedroom and closed the door.  There he stood speechless, not knowing what to do.  He never saw or heard what took place behind the door.  His parents missed the opportunity of modeling before their son how they handled minor conflicts so he would know what to do when he was in similar situations. 


Stupid Thing No. 13:   Letting Grammy rule your house.  This is one of the most stupid things a parent can do.  While grandparents are important and we can learn from their knowledge and experience, too often parents refuse to set their own rules and guidelines for their children.  A big mistake parents make is giving-in to their parents’ rules or methods of parenting instead of creating their own.  The truth is if parents raise their children effectively they would not need to interfere in raising their grandchildren.  Yes, we thank God for grandparents who have to fill in the gaps when adult children are missing or delinquent in being effective parents.  On the other hand, when parents allow the grandparents to have more power in governing their home it causes confusion, disrespect and even delinquent or disobedient behavior.  In principal, grandparents should avoid micro managing the homes of their children because it is not healthy. 


In 2002 I wrote in an article entitled “Grammy’s Tired To” the following:   “Parents are the primary providers, nurturers, and educators of their children. All other individuals, including grand parents, are only to provide emotional support for this growing family. Supporters only give assistance when requested. They watch silently from the side lines, giving encouraging words.  When silent support turns into instruction and advice, confusion sets in. In other words, if Grammy’s baby sitting rules are different from mom’s and dad’s, the little children will become confused, miserable, and sometime angry. If grand father or grand mother acts as if their years of experience and knowledge as parents are superior to that of their own adult children, this will be reflected each time instruction or discipline is needed. Often the parents would give one instruction and the grand parent another, causing great confusion in the mind of the little child.”


Stupid Thing No. 14:   Telling someone in the presence of your unruly teenager: “He is sixteen, I cannot tell him what to do.”  If you really want to lose management of your children, especially those who are difficult to control, then all you have to do is tell them you cannot handle them anymore.   Losing control causes desperate actions for too many parents and it is the actions or attitude of the parent that causing more pain than the actions of the unruly teenager.   Dear parent who is struggling with a defiant, unruly, or disrespectful child, never put your guard down.   Never let your child believe that you are weaker than he or she is.   The fact is just being a parent puts you in a position of authority and strength.  If you feel that you “cannot tell him what to do” any more, you have given your child authority that he should not have or cannot handle yet.   You have also weakened your position as a parent and can no longer discipline your child.  Another point is that this statement might be indicative how you feel about parenting or a lack of parenting skills.  Parenting teens require great intelligence, patience, creative thinking, and lots of other skills.  Seek help by reading books, attending a seminar or seeking counseling. 

Stupid Thing No. 15:   Telling your children: “When you get eighteen you will be free to do what you want to do?”  Now this is really a stupid thing to say.  When parents say this they are actually setting up their children to think that when they turn eighteen it is the time when total, unrestricted freedom and autonomy begins, even if they are not ready for it.  Oh, but they think they are ready.   

This statement reminds me about the shooting of a bow and arrow.  The shooter pulls the bow back gradually until the string is taught.  Then the shooter releases the bow sending the arrow shooting towards the target.   As long as the arrow is in the bow there is complete control.  When the arrow is released the shooter has no more control and the speed of the arrow can cause great harm when it hits the target.  Dear parent, releasing your child into adulthood or independent living is to be gradual and should start long before the age of eighteen.  Some eight-year-olds are not even ready to be released in to society and others might be ready much sooner.  Although we know that adulthood and maturity is not attained until age twenty-one to twenty-five, parents are to teach and model independent living and self government from child’s early years.

Stupid Thing No. 16:   Going to church and leaving your children at home.  One of the best gifts a parent can give a child is that is spiritual excitement and stability.   As mentioned earlier, children learn best from the modeling of their parents.  Sending your child to church alone or leaving your child at home while you go to church and still expecting a positive response toward church and spiritual matters is a hopeless situation.   The first five to ten years of the child’s life should be saturated with great spiritual and social modeling.   This means that the parents are doing everything they are asking their  children to do.  The goal is that the parents’ spiritual and social values will be adopted by the children as they get older, as their own values.  This cannot be reached if children are being asked to do things that the parent are not themselves doing. 

Stupid Thing No. 17:   Not making sure your children understands clearly the reason they are being punished.   One of the greatest mistakes parents make is to think that since they are parent with “all the authority” they do not have to explain to children the reason they are being punished.   This is a grave error in parenting.  The time of punishing is a great teaching opportunity.  If the child is not aware why he or she is being punished then the punishment will only be punitive.   In other words, all punishment is to have long-term or permanent mental and emotional effect.  To accomplish this, the child should be aware why he or she is being punished before the punishment is being administered.  If this is not being done then the parent is increasing the chances that the child will become violent, or more verbally aggressive, argumentative, and delinquent.   Parenting isn’t easy so let’s do all we can to make it easier.

Stupid Thing No. 18: Asking your children: “Do you have homework tonight?”   Parents should never ask their children if they have homework.  One of the best parenting tools is to teach your children that there is always homework, even if the teacher does not give a homework assignment.   The standard daily homework assignment is reviewing what was done is class during the day.  If there is no homework assigned by the teacher for the day it should be understood that the child will spend at least 90 minutes reviewing or re-doing the day’s school work.   Asking if your child has homework may simply be giving permission for your child to no tell the truth.  Furthermore, when the parent accepts that answer and just says “okay,” it is setting up the child for failure.  Parents are not to appear disinterested in their children’s school life.  When parents are active in the school life of their children it makes it easier for them to succeed.  Parent should have random, unannounced checks of the school bags, assignment books and text books.   The younger the child, the more frequent the checks should be.  Even if the parent has no knowledge or skill in a specific subject, it is imperative that the parent check on neatness, handwriting, incomplete assignments, etc. 

Stupid Thing No. 19: Intentionally embarrassing or shaming your children in public.  Children are to be respected also.  Deliberately shaming and embarrassing your child in public can be emotional damaging.  The more a parent embarrasses his or her child in public the further they push him or her away.  How do parents embarrass their children in public?  Here are a few ideas by psychologist, Hayley DiMarco:  “Yelling at them in public.  Being too loud and drawing attention to yourself and them.  Being too affectionate in public.  Treating your teen like a little child in front of their friends.  Drinking too much or doing drugs.”   This is just a few ways parents can embarrass their children in public.  I am sure you can think of many more ways.

Stupid Thing No. 20: Always controlling, choosing, or making decisions for your children.  As stated at the beginning of the series, parents are to teach and model so their children will be independent, self-controlled, dependable, and critical thinkers.  Always making decisions for your child will certainly stifle growth in these areas.   From the very early ages children can start making their own decisions.  For example, when it is meal time, a two-year-old child can be allowed to decide what to eat.  How this is done is important.  A wise parent will decide the food items the child should eat and during a particular meal allow the child to choose from among two or three wholesome food items.  The result is two-fold.  The parent would have taught good nutrition and at the same time allowed for freedom while the child is still under supervision.   When it comes to homework many child would ask how to spell a word.  A wise parent would not give the correct spelling of the word but will direct the child to the dictionary.   By the time the child reaches the late teens there should be very little or no decisions the parent should make for the child.  By this time the child would have adopted principles and values taught by the parents.

Stupid Thing No. 21: Failure to acknowledge the uniqueness and creativity of each child. Each child is unique and special. When parent neglects to recognize or understand the special characteristics of each child it can cause problems in parenting, emotionally and psychologically. Parents should avoid forcing each child in the same mold. Although there should be structure in the home (bed time, meal time, etc) parents must take note what are the needs of each child and how each child respond to life, his or her environment, social pressure, etc. If 7.00 p.m. is bedtime the parent may note that one child may fall asleep quickly and the other stays awake for a long time before falling off to sleep. Although the child still goes to bed on time he or she should not be punished for keeping awake longer while in bed. One child may study best in the morning and the other in the evening. One child may enjoy red beans and the other does not like them. The role of the parent is to ensure that child is getting proper daily nutrition. So of the child do not like red beans find another bean the child likes. Respect the right for the child to have preferences. However, wise parents would maintain a principle of good nutrition and discipline. Because the child does not like red beans it should not be replaced with ice cream. Parents should also celebrate the difference in their children’s approach to the arts. One may love to play the piano and the other cook. Although at some point it is important to expose all children to both cooking and playing the piano, it is imperative to recognize and respect what is the keen interest of the child and encourage the child in that direction.

Stupid Thing No. 22: Requiring your children to be obedient and you have not demonstrated obedience in your own life. As emphasized in all of these articles, children learn best by observing their parents or the significant others in their lives. It is extremely difficult to require the child to do something if the life of the parent is contrary to the request. This is true in social, moral, spiritual, and financial matters. Saying “do as I say and not as I do” is a great error in parenting. If you want your child to go to bed on time then you have to be prepared to do the same (within reasons). If you want your child to eat healthily then you are to do the same. If you want you child to be obedient to you then you must also demonstrate obedience to your own principles of life. For example: obeying the speed limit, stopping on the red light, using the seat belt, telling the truth, etc. If you are a single parent and you truly want you child to remain sexually pure until marriage then you should not be sleeping in the bedroom with someone you are not married too. If you want you child to come home on time after the social at church then you are to avoid staying extremely late at nights in the nightclub.

Stupid Thing No. 23: Providing everything for the child that the parent could not have when they were children - - Saying "I don't want you to suffer the way I did when I was a child." While on one hand it is imperative for parents to ensure that their children are well taken care of and are provided all the basic needs of shelter, clothing, food, love and nurture, on the other hand it is not true that parents are to provide everything they believe their children should have. Parents are to instill the spirit of industriousness, the value of labor, patience, compassion, and care. These are difficult to attain if parents give everything to their children. This is even more important when families are financial restricted. When parents get a bank loan during Christmas time to buy gifts or for a vacation and then cannot pay the school fees, they are making a great mistake. The lessons of thriftiness, wise spending, and setting priorities are lost. The child may develop an entitlement attitude or have an inflated ego that will emotionally cripple him or her for life.

Barrington H. Brennen is a marriage and family therapist.  Send your questions to P.O. Box CB-11045, or email   question@soencouragement.org or call 1-242-327-1980 or visit www.soencouragement.org



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