Parenting keeps you young. Or at least, psychologically young, even if in your advanced years you struggle to match their seemingly endless energy. Not only does it ensure that you stay active as you involve yourself in their extra curricular activities and engage with them in a broad spectrum of activities. The more we involve ourselves in our kids’ lives, the more we get back in touch with our childhood selves. While this can be a wonderful thing, it can also be taken too far. We become tempted to live vicariously through our kids and use them as a vehicle to re-enter the environment of youth culture armed with the knowledge, skills and capital that we have now as adults. Youth 2.0 if you will. Through the prism of our kids’ developing young minds we can find ourselves becoming inexorably drawn to the Cult of Cool. Just as today’s teens and tweens obsessively worry about their popularity, their personal “brand” on social media and the way in which they’re perceived by our peers, we sensible adults who should know better become intoxicated by the draft from the fountain of youth that our kids represent. We suddenly worry about how our kids and their friends perceive us. We want not only for our kids to be popular and well liked but for us to be popular and well liked within our kids’ demographic. We seek to become that rare and beautiful thing… The cool parent.
But here’s the thing… Cool and parent are fairly mutually exclusive terms, especially when viewed through the prism of what a 14 year old kid thinks is cool. Sure, it’s human nature to seek acceptance and in that regard we’re not so different from our kids. But in chasing the moniker of “cool parent” we can end up doing ourselves and our children a disservice…
Parenting: It’s not about you!
Whether you’re raising your own kids, fostered kids or adopted kids, parenting requires a level of selflessness that can be a bitter pill to swallow. From the moment we first bring our kids in to our homes our lives have changed forever. We must dedicate the rest of our lives to protecting these young and fragile lives from harm and lay the foundations for a happy, healthy and successful adulthood. And there’s very rarely much space within that remit for being cool. The trouble is that when our kids reach adolescence, a jarring change comes about that many parents simply aren’t prepared for. We go from being the center of their universe to an embarrassment around whom they must never be seen publicly. We’re expected to act, dress, talk and behave like a parent, and any attempt to exert our own personalities are met with even more sighing an eye rolling. We feel spurned, irrelevant and very old. As such, it’s perfectly understandable to want to reinvent ourselves so that we can engage with our kids on their own terms… But this is virtually always a recipe for disaster. Still, perhaps it’s better this way. As parents we’re playing the long game. We need to remind ourselves that they will grow out of the long shrug that is their teen years. Over time they will come to value us for the great job we did raising them rather than our lame attempts to parrot their behavior. Plus, you wouldn’t want to engage in some of the shocking behaviors with which some parents debase themselves for the sake of “cool cred”.
The scary stuff a lot of “cool” parents do
Fortunately, while it can be embarrassing, a lot of the behavior of self-proclaimed “cool” parents is fairly benign. Indeed there are elements which may even benefit kids. They feign an interest in the latest musical trends and make sure that they stay up to date with the latest clothing trends. All kids want to look good at school so the odd pair of awesome sneakers or designer hoodie can make for hugely appreciated gifts which just might raise your cool quotient in your kids’ eyes. Just don’t convince yourself that it’ll last. Moreover, don’t fall into the trap of trying to buy your kids’ love. Not only is it not sustainable, you could seriously damage your relationship with your child (more on that shortly). ‘
While chasing “cool cred” from their kids, parents can also pick up some far more worrying behaviors. They can adopt a laissez faire attitude to alcohol or narcotic consumption under the flimsy justification of “they’re going to do it anyway, so I’d rather it was with me”. While the logic in this is understandable to a point, you’d be far better served being open frank and honest with your kids about these substances, educating them about their inherent pitfalls and trusting them to make their own well informed and sensible decisions.
Remember that a teenager’s mind is still developing and the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that deals with impulse control) will not fully develop until they reach their mid twenties. The worst thing you can do for them is to help them plunge down a reckless path for the sake of your own vanity.
Nobody wants to raise a brat
Trying to get into your kids’ good graces by playing the “cool” card is not only demanding for you, it can actually impede your kids’ social development. Especially if you’re using your credit card to earn their adulation. The only thing this is likely to do is give them a disproportionate sense of their own self worth which will invariably lead to bratty behaviors. Not only will this make them a nightmare to live with, it can make them come down with a thump when they get back into their own social group and aren’t met with the same unbridled adulation.
Be a good parent… And the cool will follow
Ultimately, the only way to really be a cool parent is to be a good parent. Give your kids everything they need (and a little of what they want). Raise them with good values and be forthcoming with your love and affection. Be there for them when they need you but have the grace to know when they need you to take a step back for the good of their development. When this happens… Being cool is an inevitable consequence.