The role of a parent has always been challenging, but parenting in the twenty-first century has presented parents with new challenges — from how much freedom to give children to how to deal with the behemoth of social media.
For every parent who has faced the humiliation of a public tantrum or had difficulty communicating with a sullen teenager, there is help.
In his readable new book, The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat them Like Grown-Ups [Basic Books], Dr. Leonard Sax identifies several problems facing children, including why children today are obese, why they are on medication, and why they are lagging academically behind children in other countries.
According to Sax, parents lose control of their children when their children value the opinions and the approval of their peers over that of their parents. Many parents have ceded their authority to their children on matters of what to eat, where they will go to school, or whether or not they will spend leisure time with the family.
In addition to valuing of peer’s opinions, Dr. Sax gives several examples of how parents are reluctant to give guidance to their children. In one example, the author presents the example of a mother who constantly speaks to her son about improving his grades. The son spends most of his time playing a video game known as World of Warcraft.
After tiring of his mother’s pleas to improve, he explodes and tells her that he is not going to college. In fact, he claims to be able to make a living playing World of Warcraft. His mother, unfamiliar with the video game, does some online research and finds that people in other countries are simultaneously playing the game. Some are making money playing it.
The exasperated mother thinks maybe her son has a point. “Who am I to deny him happiness?,” she asks. Dr. Sax rebuts this argument by noting that the mother is confusing pleasure with happiness. Pleasure is temporary. The parent should be guiding the child to lasting happiness.
The most pressing challenge is what Dr. Sax terms the “culture of disrespect.” Sax observes that children today do not just disrespect their parents, they also disrespect each other. Media and advertising aimed at children are the biggest megaphones of the culture of disrespect. Many children’s television programs do not show parents, while those that do portray parents as clueless dolts.
The advice given by Dr. Sax is based on twenty-five years of family practice. He relates many anecdotes of the patients who have come through his office. The information is presented as it would be if the reader were a patient. The material could also be presented at a seminar to many people.
The studies that Sax cites are presented clearly and are accessible to the reader without being overcomplicated. The studies that show the number of American children on psychiatric drugs compared to children in other countries will have many parents questioning the medical profession.
This will not be the last parenting book, but its straightforward presentation renders it better than most. Perhaps the most important bit of wisdom in this book can be found on page 125: “To be a better parent, you must become a better person.”
Original CBC review by Kevin McVicker.
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