It seems that whether the issue is drugs, alcohol, bullying, risky driving, media consumption, or sex, studies show that parents consistently underestimate their own kids interest or participation in these behaviors. As it has been said, denial is not just a river in Egypt. What drives this type of parental denial, the “Not My Kid” Syndrome (NMK), held by so many? There are several primary factors at play:
1) Some parents have a hard time moving past viewing their kids as innocent children. Parents invest years in protecting their kids, controlling and monitoring activities, and trying to instill values. They want to believe that they’ve done a good job at parenting – and many have! They have a hard time coming to terms with their kids leaving childhood behind and starting to experience new levels of adult-like engagement with the world.
2) Kids mature differently. Because there is no normal when it comes to adolescent development; no fixed template that all kids follow on the pathway to adulthood, parents aren’t always aware of when adolescent changes are taking place. The development process, unique to each adolescent, can make it easier for parents to believe that their kid isn’t “there yet” when it comes to typical adolescent interests and behaviors.
3) Not all kids engage in at-risk behaviors. The simple fact is that not every teen has sex, drinks alcohol, takes drugs, vapes, views porn, and drives like a maniac. These facts make it easy for parents to make a simple assumption that their kids are in the “NMK” category, whether they are or not. But in reality, while not all kids engage in at-risk behaviors, all kids think about them and are susceptible to temptations and peer pressure.
4) Parents are uncomfortable talking about tough issues. Most parents don’t relish discussions with their teenagers on tough issues like dealing with peer pressure, sexuality, or drugs and alcohol. The hesitance to talk about these topics make it easier for parents to rationalize that their kids aren’t ready or interested in these issues.
Rather than being a “NMK” parent, the wise course of action is to prepare kids for the process of adolescence and the pressures, challenges, and temptations that accompany it. Talking to kids about these issues in an atmosphere of acceptance and openness will help kids face challenges when they arise. But parents who live this season of life with a “Not My Kid” attitude actually put their kids at greater risk of being hurt along the way. It’s far better for parents to live with a preventative “Why Not My Kid?” point of view.