The Collapse of Parenting:Part 1

This week we were getting on a chair lift to ski and the young skier in front of us brushed by the attendant who was checking everyone’s ski passes with an electronic gun.

The attendant yelled something at him like, “If you do that again—” and I didn’t hear the rest, but he was long gone.

Hmmm. Disrespect is troubling to see because it shows that the perpetrator thinks the rules don’t apply to him. It was also disconcerting for me to see someone with access to great privilege, acting badly.

Leonard Sax MD., PhD, writes in his compelling book, The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-Ups about “the dramatic decline in achievement and psychological health of American children.”

In his book, Dr. Sax, talks about the culture of disrespect, obesity, overmedication, failure to achieve in school and the fragility of today’s children in America. He gives many examples because of his private practice and the lecture circuit he is on. Story after story of well-meaning but permissive parents who “only want my child to be happy.”

After laying out the problems in the first part, in the second half of his book he talks about what matters, misconceptions we parents have about being authoritative–that actually parents who are loving but not permissive raise children that are better adjusted, and then his three solutions to the above problems of decline in achievement and the mental health of our children.

Dr. Sax wrote that teaching your child humility is the first solution. ” Why humility? Because humility has become the most un-American of virtues…Because so many American parents have confused virtue with success.” And, “In addition to having your kids do chores, I also recommend limiting kids’ use of social media.”

“I have observed that social media..is all about self-promotion: Here I am at a party, having a great time. Here I am getting dressed for the prom. Here I am sticking my finger up my nose. Here I am. Look at me. It’s all about broadcasting and aggrandizing self.”

He also writes that part of teaching your children humility is to teach them to bounce back, that mistakes mean we are trying to get better at something. That disappointment is a healthy part of growth.

The second solution is to enjoy being with our children. When American fathers are with children one on one, studies have shown that they are playing together. American mothers are multi-tasking when they are with their children.

Dr. Sax writes how allowing excessive screen time hurts family bonds and this precious time we have together. Giving a phone to a nine-year old actually breaks down the parent-child relationship. Texting her friends becomes more important, at this early age, then what her mother is saying to her. Dr Sax promotes doing activities together, being out in nature or the all important family dinner. He urges us to stop over scheduling our lives in order to enjoy each other. We know all of this, but reading his compelling stories and data really hit home for me.

The third solution in his view is to teach the meaning of life.

Dr Sax quotes a headmaster of a school in Australia who is teaching his students the meaning of life:

Meaningful work

A person to love

A cause to embrace.

Dr Sax finishes the book with “Do not allow yourself to be paralyzed by your own inadequacies. You may not be the perfect model of honesty or integrity…’

“But too bad. To borrow and analogy from the classroom: Raising a child to know and care about virtue and character is not a special extra credit assignment reserved for the superior parent. It is mandatory for all parents. And when you are given a mandatory assignment , you must do your best, regardless of your own shortcomings. Regardless of whether your peers–other parents–are paying attention to the assignment or not. There is no greater responsibility.”

As for the rude skier that wouldn’t let the attendant check his pass? As we were getting off the lift, another young man yelled, “Dude! They are going to take away your pass if you do that again!”

For his sake, I hope they do.

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