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Parents in line with their children

By Tim Middleton

The views and actions of Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle, the American former actress, are often revealed globally, while at their peak it was reported that they had over 10 million followers on their Instagram account (since closed down, due to the hate they experienced). A California-based brand and reputation management expert Eric Schiffer claimed (in The News) recently that he thinks “Meghan and Harry’s masterplan is to position themselves as the royals of the world, not just of the UK, and done through acts of benevolence and leadership with the heart that is meaningful to the values and desires of Gen Z and Millennials.” He went on to explain, “That means the environment, it means more focus on equality — about which you’ll likely see William talk about in the future — and a focus on understanding and tuning into the sensitivities of this generation.”

At one stage Prince Harry was third in line to the throne of the UK, behind his father and older brother. However, now that his brother has had three children, Prince Harry has slid down the list to be sixth in line, while to some extent many people will argue that his popularity (which reached its peak when he served in the army in Afghanistan) has slipped considerably following his marriage and subsequent decision to step down from royal duties.

This slide down the ranks reflects a similar path that parents seem to take with reference to their influence over their children. When it comes to our teenagers, where do parents tend to rank in terms of influence? To whom do our teenagers go and listen, when seeking support, direction and advice? For many youngsters it is not their parents; in fact, for many, their parents may well only be fifth in line. Firstly, teenagers are drawn to their favourite celebrity (such as Meghan Markle), as they appear to have found the secret of success and happiness. Secondly, they tend to go to their peers, as their peers seem to be the only ones who know what they are going through and so must have the answers. Thirdly, teenagers will be drawn to their peer’s parents, as they always appear so wise. Fourthly, they will be prepared to listen to some of their teachers, as they are adult and seem to have their life under control. And, then, lastly, okay, there is always parents, if all else fails.

The question we have to ask is this: how come? How have parents fallen from pole position to fifth in line of influence? They had a head start — the celebrities were not there during all those early years, neither were their peers or teachers. The parents were there right at the beginning and had exclusive access and input for many years, so where did it all go wrong?

Parents may be quick to respond that their descent is because of the novelty effect of the others; the teenagers are used to and fed up with the same old story, plus they see the parents at their worst, at home, out of sight of others, while they see the others always in a positive light. Parents may well add that it is not fair as they are the bad guys who have to do all the disciplining and no teenager likes that. In fairness to parents, it may also be that the teenager is embarrassed to raise issues with their parents, perhaps also in fear of what may result, and does not want to disappoint the parents. By the time of teenagers, the parents are not seeing their child as much and so have less opportunity to influence; what time they have must be used positively.

What then is the solution? How can parents step up the ladder of influence again? Perhaps they may take a leaf out of Harry and Meghan’s book and seek to understand the heart, the values, the sensitivities and the desires of the younger generation, by talking about the environment and equality and sustainability. Parents cannot expect it as their right, on demand; in fact, that will be the worst way to go about it. What is needed and will be respected, even if never vocalised, is humanity and humility, honour and humour — those will go a long way.

The bottom line is, though, that it is not a competition nor is it about popularity or even personality, even if such suits Meghan Markle (pardon the pun). There is no masterplan as a masterplan suggests it is all about being the master. Parents must simply be first in line for their children — always.

  • Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.
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