Book Monitor

The Collapse of Parenting:
How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-Ups 

Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D.

Childrearing books abound, but this one can undo the harm inflicted by permissive, self-esteem peddlers. Americans are noticing a higher than acceptable level of disrespect and unruly behavior among young people. Some college students seem to believe the world owes them something, plus they are "fragile"; many high schoolers don't try as hard as they should; and there are too many obese children and students taking prescribed drugs to control behavior in K-12 classrooms.

Better parenting could solve many societal problems. Dr. Sax says, "Over the past three decades, there has been a massive transfer of authority from parents to kids." He notes that parents should be strict and loving, and that it is possible to offer unconditional love while still setting firm boundaries for children.

Like any competent physician, Sax first reviews the symptoms, then explains his diagnosis, and finally he offers treatment. Solutions prescribed by Sax include teaching and modeling self control, humility, and conscientiousness.

This book is peppered with examples of both good and bad parenting. Sax suggests that parents stop doing so much "negotiating." He says parents report to him that their children will only eat certain foods, like french fries and chicken nuggets; they refuse all vegetables. He instructs those parents to stop feeding their children fries and chicken bits. When they become hungry enough, they'll eat the healthier items offered! This simple directive exemplifies the ease with which parents could regain their authority to guide children to do what's right and proper. Essentially, parents must be willing to treat children as children, not allow them to act like tiny dictators.

According to studies conducted over many decades, self control is the best predictor of happiness and overall satisfaction in life. These studies were controlled for socioeconomic status, across all backgrounds. Particularly in a culture that offers many negative influences and bad role models, a child needs to be "capable of governing his or her needs and desires instead of being governed by them."

Another trait parents should teach their children is conscientiousness, which the author describes as "honesty, responsibility, and industriousness." One way to foster this is to require children to do chores.

Sax's recommendations include eating family dinners together; allotting time for family activities; refusing to over schedule kids; and guiding children to "find a sense of meaning, a longing for something higher and deeper."

It's never too late. Sax recommends that parents make a plan and then tell their children, "Things are changing as of today."

(Basic Books, 2016, 287 pp., $26.99)


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