The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-Ups

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Release Date: 
December 28, 2015
Basic Books
Reviewed by: 

If you are going to read one book on parenting this year, make it The Collapse of Parenting by Leonard Sax. What makes a good nonfiction instructional book is an author who has extensive real world experience in the subject matter and who has the ability to write clearly. Leonard Sax has both.

The central theme discussed is that parenting patterns have changed substantially in the last 30 to 40 years. The text is divided into two parts; first, the negative effects that these changes have had on our children, and second, what can be done to correct this situation.

Often, books of this nature overreach in their promised effects, suggesting that the identified problems are so broad-based that they cause virtually every malady from schizophrenia to hang nails. This book does cover five major characteristics that are indeed broad-based that have emerged in today’s children. The author however, documents amply in the text and in the references that poor parenting techniques have resulted in these problems:

• A culture of disrespect,

• Childhood obesity,

• The increased use of psychotropic medications in children and adolescents,

• American students falling behind in academic skills,

• The creation of fragile childhood egos.

At the heart of the problem is the parental pattern of allowing children to decide on a course of action when it should be the parents’ prerogative and necessity to make certain decisions.

Parents have “role confusion” resulting in authority being transferred from themselves to children. When parents abdicate authority for a variety of issues in child rearing, children may transiently feel unfettered and empowered. Kids end up adrift and with serious long-term consequences from this pattern.

It is the job of parents to teach appropriate culture and inculcate it into their children, whether it be what to eat and when, what school to attend, whether or not to go on vacation with the family, or how much screen time (computer, smart phone, or TV) is allowed.

As stated, “No child is born knowing the rules. Every child must be taught.” Many kids may think they know what is best for them, but they are ill equipped in childhood and early adolescence to make these decisions. The necessary Authoritative teaching requires a significant amount of parental authority.

Of course there are parents who take this to an extreme without virtually any flexibility, but in 21st century America, the opposite is too often true. If a diet of junk food and dessert prevails over healthy alternatives, obesity is almost always the outcome. If a child is allowed a tablet or smart phone in his/her bedroom  allowing texts, instant messages or Internet browsing late into the night, the child will seldom get adequate sleep and daytime attentiveness/school performance and will suffer.

While the dictum “Command. Don’t Ask.” sounds excessively harsh, in this context, it means being firm and ignoring the temptation to rationalize parental decisions. Limited choices between reasonable alternatives are possible. “Do you want carrots or peas for dinner?” can be helpful, versus “Do you want to go into your room and eat potato chips or come to the family dining table for supper” which is not.

The book rightly identifies that during a child’s upbringing, parent–child interactions are more important than peer interactions. Peer relationships are fragile by nature. A wrong word, a failed compliment or invitation can quickly decimate a friendship. Parents can and should give unconditional love, not the conditional and contingent love found in peer relationships.

The author is very specific and realistic about positive parental behaviors that include:

• Family vacations are for the family, not for peers.

• Assign household chores and consequences if the chores are not done.

• Allow a child to fail. It makes them stronger.

• Help a child develop self-control.

• Keep your word and teach by example.

• “Yes” is easier to say than “No.” Don’t fall into “easy” acquiescence even in the face of noisy disagreement.

• Teach humility, gratitude, appreciation, and contentment.

• Enjoy the time with your child. This sounds easy, but is not always so in today’s hectic world.

• Parental multitasking during child time doesn’t work. Focus solely on the child and his/her needs and interests during your time with them.

• Underscore and support the child about who they are not what they do.

• Arrange for children to do less (including so-called enrichment activities and afterschool programs) and become a more solid, strong person.

Several common misconceptions about this parenting style are identified and effectively countered.

• There will be a rebound effect when my child leaves home.

• My child will be an outcast and unpopular because it is important for my child to be popular.

• It is unrealistic for me to hold my child responsible for behavior outside my home.

• If I love my child, then that means I trust my child, right?

• If I follow this advice, my child will not love me anymore

This is quite simply a good book that is easily read and will provide sound advice for giving our children the best chance to succeed in life.