How we contributed to the collapse of parenting

 Photo credit: Nick Demou

Photo credit: Nick Demou

Leonard Sax, MD, PhD is the author of an eye-opening book called The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown Ups. He clearly breaks down the pitfalls our generation of parents have fallen into and then gives several actionable, on-point solutions for parents to take away.

Take a few minutes to watch a video I recorded that captures the essence of this book:

There are three areas where shifts from the past two decades have created a major impact on the way we are parenting today:

First, we are now living in a culture of disrespect. There are a few reasons for this…in part because of the shift in our education system from an emphasis on play and socialization skills (things as simple as taking turns, putting things away, and sharing, to more complex concepts like living a balanced life through self-control, and sometimes you will fail so you can learn resilience) to a focus on academic achievement (other countries were gaining academically on our kids, kids in the U.S. were beginning to appear less smart!). This, in turn, began a shift for parents in two ways…(a) they started to receive the message from school that it is more important to be concerned with academic outcomes than social/life skills, and (b) it then fell to parents to pick up the slack and teach/role model the socialization skills. Problem is, we haven’t done it well, possibly because we didn’t have a good example ourselves and/or because we thought the school was doing it.

In addition, media has increasingly portrayed parents in a grossly different light than they did in the 1980s. In that decade, not only did we have less variety on television but parents/family life was cherished and celebrated, parents were the figures kids came to for help, advice, and sometimes consequences based on their actions.

Have you ever watched the Disney Channel? That’s just one example of how parents are either portrayed as nonexistent or made to look like fools in family life today.

Before they are teenagers, our kids now favor the advice and approval of their same-age peers over us. Yes, adolescence is a time of naturally progressing individuation and desiring to be like the group, but it is happening much earlier and to a greater extreme in our culture today. Our kid’s friends strongly outrank us when it comes being on the receiving end of admiration. And while social media has contributed to this, it cannot be blamed entirely. In countless ways we have gone missing in building the kind of relationships our kids can lean into when they face a challenge. In some respects it’s as if we have forgotten our role (or how important it is)…or maybe it’s because we don’t understand the balance between a strict disciplinarian and being our kids best friend.

The ideal while our kids are becoming independent young adults is to get to a place where we are parenting with them and not over them.

Second area of shift in Dr. Sax’s book is that we have a major obesity issue and kids are overly medicated in this country. The rise in diabetes, ADHD, anxiety, depression and a host of other ills can be attributed to three things: what kids eat, how much kids eat (and how often), and the serious level of sleep deprivation kids in the U.S are experiencing. The chapter on this topic is so eye-opening!

The third MAJOR point (though there are so many minor and just as important points throughout the book) is that our kids have shifted from being able to handle losing and failure to becoming fragile and unable to navigate the natural ups and downs life brings. In simple terms, we have done too much for our kids and in our loving efforts to fix things for them we’ve left them cripple and whining and unable to take on [some of] life’s challenges.

But there’s hope!

After pointing out the many ways in which parenting today is showing up differently and insufficiently than it did when I grew up (in the 70s-80s), Dr. Sax gives us actionable solutions. Here is a bullet list of the ones I feel are most important:

  • Eat together as a family (without electronics) as often as possible. It’s not about the quality of the meal…it’s about being together and checking in. This isn’t rocket science, free up some of your nights.

  • Love your child unconditionally…that means they don’t have to perform (get a specific grade, play a specific sport/instrument to your liking, complete a chore to perfection) for your attention or affection. Think back to your own childhood…did you ever feel like you weren’t good enough or loved by your parent because of a grade or skill? How do you feel about that today?

  • Take vacations as a family…and don’t invite the kid’s friends along. This is a time to really create some memories and connection. Think about it, if that’s your goal and if your kid is busy hanging out with their best friend during your awesome trip to the cabin in the woods, then they aren’t fully invested in the relationships that can be built during the break from the daily family grind during rest & relaxation. Vacations, yes! Friends, no.

  • Take the time to really think about what you value and want to instill in your children and then model it and be sure your family life reflects those values. Don’t allow the messages of the culture to dictate what your family will look like. Do not read this to say “be perfect and make no mistakes”…living your values is a practice, we’re parents…not perfect, right?

    One final thought wrapped in a quote from the book:

    “You must help your child to find meaning in life that is not about their latest accomplishment, or how they look, or how many friends they have, but about who your child is, their truest self.” ~Leonard Sax, MD, PhD

    In my opinion you cannot do this without first being very clear on who your are Mom and Dad.

If you’ve read the book I would love to have you add your comment or write to me at realifeparentguide@gmail.com.