We parents are spending more and more time and money on parenting, author and psychologist Leonard Sax points out, but when you look at the results, things are getting worse, not better.
- The number of children being labeled and treated for ADHD – and even bipolar disorder – is increasing exponentially
- Children are generally out of shape and heavier than two decades ago
- Children and teens can’t handle failure and rejection – they’re more “fragile” than previous generations (even college students need “safe spaces”)
- There is a “culture of disrespect” among children and teens today – toward authority figures, like parents and teachers, but also toward their peers
- Academic achievement is declining, especially creative problem solving skills
Dr. Sax is a psychologist who has worked with teens from public and private schools throughout his 30 year career. He has interviewed thousands of boys and girls, parents, and teachers. As a result of his observations and the many studies he has researched, he has come to some disturbing conclusions. And you may not like to hear the underlying cause he proposes – bad parenting practices.
His new book, The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-Ups, presents the problems as he sees them, suggested root causes, and practical suggestions for dealing with them.
This post is not about ACE per se, but I found this book to be very helpful to me, both as a parent and as a school administrator. Homeschooling and Christian School families probably are not as prone to the problems Dr. Sax points out, but I am alarmed by trends that I am seeing in our circles. Perhaps viewing our parenting through the eyes of this insightful secular doctor will help us identify some “blind spots” we need to work on!
There has been a major shift in American culture away from parents “calling the shots” to instead allowing children to make the decisions and parents becoming the servants and enablers. Parents no longer “command” their children – they give them choices and ask their opinions and negotiate with bribes. This starts out most often with food choices at meal time (like rejecting vegetables), snacking throughout the day, and allowing too many sweets and carbs. But by the teen years the children are firmly in control of the parents and manipulate to get what they want or avoid what displeases them.
Children are no longer disciplined for being disobedient or rebellious – they are given psychological labels and then given drugs to control their behavior. It’s easier to blame the genes and have the doctor write a prescription than to invest the time and effort to be assertive disciplinarians. Dr. Sax explains that it is the job of parents to teach their children self-control and to be in charge of their children. But parents have abdicated or are absent, so a generation has been raised without self-discipline.
Another major cause of the problems evident in this emerging generation is that kids’ primary attachment has moved from their parents to their peers. Kids in America today are much more concerned about the approval of their friends than their parents. When teens disregard the authority and influence of adults in their life, and become more interested in how many “likes” they can get on their social media posts by same-age peers, their whole value system becomes shallow and self-centered.
Just a decade or so ago the internet was still “new” and “slow” to access with dial-up modems. But the children growing up today are called “digital natives” because they are comfortable with technology from the crib to their car. The average American teenager spends more than 70 hours per week in front of a screen (TV, computer, smart-phone, etc). There are many potentially dangerous side-effects of this addiction to technology that Dr. Sax lays out.
One negative side effect is a lack of physical exercise. Children today would rather sit inside and play games on their devices than ride a bike or play a sport. The cell phone attached to the child becomes a communication link to peers and pushes away parents and adults.
Digital devices in the bedroom are another major problem – teens are spending hours every night connecting with friends online, updating social media, viewing pornography, and streaming movies (all without their parents’ notice). Devices in the bedroom also result in constant notification sounds that cause kids not to sleep soundly as they want to see who just “liked” their post or added a comment. Teens need 9 hours of sleep average per night to avoid the negative effects of sleep deprivation – most teens are only getting 6-7 hours of sleep.
Dr. Sax makes a connection showing how the electronic devices cause lack of sufficient quality sleep; that leads to unhealthy snacking habits and weight gain, as well as attention problems and behavioral issues; which leads to prescriptions of all kinds of drugs.
- Strengthen the parent-child relationship over peer relationships. Plan family-only vacations. Plan other fun things for the family to do together. Eat meals together as often as possible (with phones put away). Play games or go places. Enjoy time with your children!
- Focus on teaching self-control to your children at every stage of their life. Self-control is a key to future health, wealth, success, and happiness, more than any other studied characteristic.
- Learn to command your children – require them to eat healthy, go to bed, not take devices to their bedroom, do chores around the house. You are the “adult in the room” – so act like it. Establish reasonable rules and enforce them consistently.
- Never allow your child to show disrespect to you or other authority figures.
- Teach humility – not self-esteem – which will lead to appreciation and contentment.
- Help your children learn to live – not just make a living. Too much emphasis on getting into “the right college” and getting “the right job” can put undue stress on children and teens and communicate a wrong value system.
Dr. Sax “nails it” with his insightful observations and proposed causes. His recommendations to becoming better parents are great – as far as they go. But I would propose they fall a little short since they leave out the spiritual principles of parenting found in God’s Word. A Christian author would emphasize these truths as well:
- Children are born with a sin nature, prone to disobedience and rebellion, that has to be curtailed and corrected.
- Firm and consistent discipline is required to train children. The Bible does not excuse misbehavior with psychological labels. We should use “Bible labels” for behavior (rebellion, disobedience, defiance, sin) and then apply God’s recommended means of discipline.
- God has given parents the mandate to discipline and train their children, not just meet their physical needs.
Two other great books on child training that I would recommend are:
What the Bible Says About Child Training (2nd Edition) (Fugate) – for parenting of younger children
Keeping the Kids (David Cloud) – for parenting of elementary age and teen children
Dr. Leonard Sax has written three other books with insights for parents and teachers about children and teens of this current generation. These links take you to my reviews of them where you can find a link to order them.