Should kids spend so much time around their peers?

I’m reading a book I’d recommend to all parents: Hold On To Your Kids: Why Parents Need To Matter More Than Peers, by child development expert Dr. Gordon Neufeld and physician Dr. Gabor Mate.

The authors’ views fly in the face of many modern parenting books that focus on behavioral changes and skill-building. Neufeld and Mate believe the health and well-being of a child is directly related to remaining attached to his or her parents, and other important adults.

With the rise of “youth culture” — which is only about 50 years old — most of us have grown accustomed to the idea that children are better off spending lots of time with their peers. Wrong, according to these guys. Where a child’s primary attachment is, there will he or she follow. Our current “peer-oriented” culture makes it easier for children to shift their primary attachments to peers early on — and remain there — with parents losing authority and influence over their children.

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The authors relate many examples of working with parents whose relationship with a child was great… until one day their beloved offspring became hostile, defiant, and sullen towards them. As the writers’ note, it is attachment that facilitates a child’s identity development, values, and sense of self. If that attachment is peer-oriented, moms and dads lose much of their ability to parent, and children take on the culture of their peers. Obviously, no-one’s saying kids shouldn’t have friends. However, the authors argue that adults should be their primary attachments until maturity.  

The final section of the book explains how to keep — or regain — this primary attachment with your kids. This is the section I have yet to read and it’s usually the toughest part of a book like this. The authors claim it’s possible to regain parental authority and closeness with children by re-ordering primary attachments. Since I haven’t read it, I can’t evaluate their suggestions. 

I don’t agree with every point the authors make, but must admit that I’ve seen their theory in action and it seems to be true. Some of it is counter-intuitive — we’re bombarded with the message that kids need a lot of time with friends and peers and we think they’ll be hampered without all that socialization. I mean, isn’t that what home schoolers still get asked… “What about socialization with other kids?” But when I think of the most adjusted, healthy, well-rounded, mature kids I know, all of them were raised by people who intuitively parented according to the ideas in this book.

As Neufeld and Mate point out, the things we want to pass on to our kids — values, traditions, celebrations, ways of relating to others, manners, etc. — these come from adults. And if a child is not attached to a parent or adult, he doesn’t want to emulate them.

Makes sense.

This is a book worth reading. If you pick it up, let me know what you think.


  • Zoe Romanowsky

    Zoe Romanowsky is writer, consultant, and coach. Her articles have appeared in “Catholic Digest,” “Faith & Family,” “National Catholic Register,” “Our Sunday Visitor,” “Urbanite,” “Baltimore Eats,” and Zo

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