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Book Review

Hold On To Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers

by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate, MD

reviewed by Jacqueline Diaz
Sacramento CA USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 24 No. 1, January-February 2007, p.29

Do you have the nagging feeling that you and your child are growing apart? Do you want to read something challenging and thought-provoking? Hold On To Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate will have you reading, rereading, reflecting, and probably debating with anyone who will listen. This isn't an easy read, but layered in dense writing, thick research, and references to Nietzsche, is a message. The main message the authors want parents to hear is that it takes attachment, attention, and a loving approach to ensure our children stay connected to us as the years go by. The neediness and vulnerability of infancy doesn't end at weaning or when children start school, but rather changes and requires equal responsiveness from parents.

Neufeld and Mate take on what many Western cultures now dub "normal teenage adolescence." The idea that teens develop independence by balking at parental authority and bonding closely to their peer group is turned on its head. According to Neufeld and Mate, this version of the teen years is relatively new, originating in the post-World War era. As both parents began to enter the work force, schooling began sooner and families became more nuclear-based and less communal. Children began spending more time with other children and less time with parents, changing an attachment dynamic that has served humans for centuries. Neufeld and Mate see this trend as problematic and label children and teens who fall into this category "peer oriented."

Peer orientation refers to the phenomenon where "peers are replacing adults as a child's primary attachment." This means that what friends think becomes more important than what parents and family think. Children are orienting themselves, learning right and wrong, from the wrong people -- other children. Some of the results of peer attachment that Neufeld and Mate cite are teen suicide, poor performance in school, and defiant, self-destructive behavior. While they are not saying it is wrong to let children develop friendships and assert independence, the authors stress that real maturation only happens when children explore themselves apart from friends and when children's choices reflect individual thought, not what looks good for the crowd.

Neufeld and Mate remind parents that they possess the power and wisdom needed to maintain loving attachments with their children, and remain a guiding force as children develop autonomy. They discuss reclaiming parental "power." This is not power in the authoritarian sense, but the power that comes from strong attachment to our children and allows us to parent effectively. The final section of Hold On To Your Kids, entitled, "Collecting Our Children," details a parenting philosophy for reconnecting with children and ensuring their primary attachments are to adults who love them unconditionally and who keep their best interests at heart.

A focus of this approach comes from Neufeld's concept of "discipline that doesn't divide," meaning that families should parent from their attachment instincts. When a child does something that is not okay, Neufeld and Mate challenge parents to meet the situation with the goals of reconnection and attachment in mind. Sprinkled throughout the book are references to parenting concepts and practices that focus too much on what children are doing wrong instead of focusing on how parents are responsible for the attachment rifts in the relationship. For example, the authors are opposed to time-outs and to material rewards. Again, their focus is always on connection and intimacy.

This is a new way of thinking about parenting and may be hard for many parents to swallow, especially since Neufeld and Mate challenge the works of other prominent authors. However, Hold On To Your Kids offers parents of older children ideas for reintegrating or maintaining an attachment parenting philosophy into the teenage years.

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