My dad’s friend brought me a parenting article from the Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail. It’s titled, “Are we the worst parents ever?” It’s an excerpt from Leonard Sax’s new book The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-Ups. Sax is an American psychologist and practicing family physician. Through his years of treating teens and interviewing parents, kids, and teachers around the world, he’s come to the conclusion that parents have lost control, allow for too much screen time, and minimize the importance of family time. As a result, children develop stronger relationships with same-age peers. This preference for peers and their peers’ opinions creates “fragile” teens; somewhat of an epidemic he’s found in North America. He noticed this North American peer-preference doesn’t cross international boarders. For example, he states that in Ecuador, Argentina, and Scotland, youngsters look forward to spending time with family- “As one Scotsman told me- ‘We don’t think much about ‘generations.’ We just all enjoy doing things together.'”
Sax further argues that by neglecting the parent-child relationship and allowing friends, sports, and activities to take precedence, we are creating a culture of unprepared and insecure adolescents whose life-compass is the Internet, social media, and other lost peers. He believes parents need to stop fearing appearing dictatorial and start reasserting their authority. And perhaps, consequently, we will stop witnessing the surge of teen anxiety, depression, and obesity.
My kids aren’t teens, so I can’t speak from personal experience. But from the pieces I’ve read, watched, or heard from parents of teens, it seems as though Sax has hit the nail on the head. It appears as though the barrier between teens and parents is ever-growing. The ubiquitous presence of smart phones and “connectedness” to the web is making it worse. Confusion over how to discipline our children doesn’t help either (parenting philosophies are ever-changing; at times, having us feel as though punishment is an ill-advised draconian measure that will cripple our child’s psyche). Our ambitions and search for a non-parental self-identity leaves us exhausted and preoccupied. As a result, quality family time slips through the cracks. I get it. I’ve been there. So, maybe Sax is on to something- the adult in the relationship has become absent, and our children are paying for it.
The solution? Sax states to make the child-parent relationship a priority. A strong attachment and relationship will make your child value your opinion once again. More specifically, he recommends not allowing best friends on family vacations, allowing your child to connect with extended family (aunts, uncles, grandparents), and create rituals (e.g., walking to the coffee shop, family dinners, rides in the car).
For me, this article was a great reminder to not give up, to spend more time with my children, and to show them that I am the adult and role model in the relationship. Positive results take time, and as my mom once told me, “Don’t ever be lazy as a parent.” It’s one of the best pieces of parenting advice I’ve ever received because there have been MANY exhausting moments when I felt like being lazy. The easiest thing to do was to tell my kids, “No, I can’t play with you today” in order to extend my “me time.” Or say, “Fine! I’ll make you a separate dinner if you don’t want what I made” in order to avoid another meltdown. But the thought of having my kid turn to a stranger on the Internet or misguided peer for advice is troublesome. I want their fears and tears to fall on my shoulders. I want the responsibility to be their life guide and confidante; the same way Mom was mine.
Now, I’ll also pocket Sax’s theory. The time I put in with my kids matters. The unpopular decisions will, hopefully, create confident, respectful, and happy adults who will look forward to our time together.