Family doctor Richard Sax practiced medicine for nearly twenty years when he felt the need to put some of the non-medical knowledge he’d gleaned in his career to good use. He began writing books for parents in 2005, and in his latest, The Collapse of Parenting, the family doctor has a serious message for modern parents. The gist? “You’re doing it wrong.” Sax says parents have been led astray by experts’ advice to give their kids choices instead of expecting them to obey.
“Over the past 30 years, a major shift has occurred in American culture: the transfer of authority from parents to children,” his website says.
In his book. Dr. Sax offers some examples from his experience with children and parents as their family doctor. One scenario with a mom and a six-year-old patient shows the problem clearly.
Sax says he told the little girl, “Next I’m going to take a look at your throat,” but instead of telling the girl to comply, the mother asked for the child’s permission, saying, “Do you mind if the doctor looks in your throat for just a second, honey? Afterward, we can go and get some ice cream.”
The little girl, offered a choice, decided she’d rather NOT submit to be examined, which led to her throwing a temper tantrum and having to be restrained for a simple strep test.
“It’s not a question,” Sax said. “It’s a sentence: ‘Open up and say, ‘Ahh.” Parents are incapable of speaking to their children in a sentence that ends in a period,” he said. “Every sentence ends in a question mark.”
What’s led to this collapse in parenting? Well, the aforementioned bad parenting advice, for one. Sax says instead of focusing on their primary duties of teaching kids right from wrong and keeping them safe, parents instead aim to make their kids happy and boost their self-esteem, which can have disastrous effects and result in them not being able to function in the real world. In addition, Sax’s website says that parents have bought into the trend of American “culture of disrespect.” He says:
Throughout the United States, it has become cool for children and teens to disrespect parents and adults generally. Every generation challenges the authority of the elders, but in American culture today this disrespect has become pervasive and destructive. It is now common, even fashionable, for affluent children to say “shut up” to their parents. Similar behavior is modeled on television and Internet programs targeting children and teens, even on the Disney Channel. In the United States, the culture of disrespect mingles with the culture of “Live for Now” (the slogan of the recent Pepsi/Beyoncé campaign). If it feels good, do it. Whatever floats your boat.
I must admit that Sax’s words ring true to me, as well as his focus in the book of medicating to fix behavior problems instead of using rules and discipline to do so, and his focus on parents making their own jobs harder by overscheduling themselves AND their kids.
Instead of these things, Sax says parents should be focused on helping their kids learn humility, self-control, and selflessness, teaching them empathy and the ability to think of others BEFORE they think of themselves, and to be able to put themselves into other’s shoes. These qualities, he says, are far better predictors of adult success than how much education your child has or what kind of affluence they grow up with.
Parenting solutions from a family doctor
Happily, Sax’s book isn’t all gloom and doom. He also offers some practical solutions to get your parenting, and your kids, back on track. A recent book review in the Austin American Stateman included some, a few of which I’ll list here.
1. Make family time at home a priority
You have to communicate that your time together as a parent and child is more important than anything else,” he said. Making family meals a priority also helps to curb childhood obesity, studies have shown.
2. Do not allow screens in kids’ bedrooms
Kids are already not getting enough sleep, and screens can only worsen that. No TVs, cell phones, or tablets in kids’ rooms is the best way to go.
3. Screen time only in public places in the home
I mean I don’t want to brag, but I think I’ve said this in articles, like, 1000 times. In our home, we don’t let our kids use screens behind a closed door. Sax says this (and I would add, checking your kids’ devices regularly) helps make sure they are not seeing anything or communicating with anyone who would harm them — AND allows the parent access to WHO is influencing your child, either positively or negatively.
More solutions on the next page!