Not just parents, and not just children.
Children need both affection and structure in order to develop into secure, happy adults.
But if parents can only provide one, it should be structure, said Lisa Damour, a psychologist who specializes in adolescent girls, and the author of Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood.
That contradicts many of the messages parents are sent through popular culture and parenting guides. But Damour, who also writes for the New York Times, said studies prove it out. Children who are raised in a stern, business-like way may be less happy as adults, but they’ll have the tools they need to function. Children raised without discipline or rules can be stunted and ill-equipped for adulthood.
It’s not just parents, and it’s not just children.
I happened to catch an episode of Lucky Dog, which was running in the background as I was doing other things. And the one thing that fascinated me was how dogs need structure: without structure, dogs become anxious and nervous.
I personally believe the reason why is that it’s not the structure which is important. After all, with the “right” structure you can turn dogs into angry killing machines and turn children into neurotic assholes.
I believe the reason why structure is important is that it gives a clear path towards success.
That is, the structure you provide should be a side effect of clear rules and clear actions towards what it takes to succeed in the world. For example, from the article:
Frame rules around safety. Kids are more apt to follow guidelines if they understand the rules’ purpose is to keep them safe. Insisting they obey for reasons of morality or hierarchy (eg “because I’m your father!”) is more likely to backfire.
“Success” in this case means “successfully not burning your hand off” or “successfully not ruining the carpet.” As children become older and responsibilities increase, the “success” goal posts can be moved: success can mean helping with chores, or with taking care of one’s own savings account, or helping with planning vacations. With proper structure, each of these rules both explicitly teach a lesson (don’t burn your hand!) and implicitly teach a lesson (have empathy and respect for your parents and for other people around you).
With raising pets, “success” can mean anything from “successfully heeling while out for a walk” to “successfully interacting with children.”
And I believe this notion of structure to communicate clearly what needs to happen to succeed can also be expanded to other areas, such as with management. For a manager with employees, the most important thing you can do is clearly communicate to your team the goals of the team (framed in terms of success of the organization, not “because I said so”), and clearly communicate what they can do to improve themselves.
Adolescents actually want structure from their parents, despite their protestations to the contrary. Permissiveness and inconsistency from parents can be unsettling and provoke anxiety, she said.
It’s why children or pets or employees can become anxious: not because they’re idiots who need to be led around by the nose without any agency of their own. But because you didn’t tell them how to succeed.
And if you don’t tell them how to succeed, you’ll learn very quickly that they have agency–as the relationship falls apart, as the pet becomes destructive, as the employee quits and finds a better job elsewhere.
I think this explains why dogs and dog ownership is associated with leadership. We like our Presidents to own dogs, which is why Trump’s lack of pets and Clinton’s lack of a dog were both minor scandals. (Clinton later got Buddy, a Labrador Retriever while in office. And Trump is considering adopting a Goldendoodle.)
In fact, you have to all the way back to the late 1800’s to find a President (President McKinley, 1897-1901) who didn’t own a dog during his administration–though he did own a parrot named “Washington Post.”