The Epidemic of Permissive Parenting: The Brats are Coming
- Friday, January 30, 2004
Dr. Robert Shaw is convinced that American society has become toxic to children. In his new book, The Epidemic, Shaw argues that a pattern of absentee and permissive parenting has led to children that are anti-social, emotionally fragile, and even dangerous. Shaw is a child and family psychiatrist practicing in Berkley, California. He also serves as director of the Family Institute of Berkeley, and has directed the Family and Children's Mental Health Services for the city of Berkeley. Even the slightest evidence of common sense coming out of the city of Berkeley is worthy of note--and this book deserves the attention of every American parent.
"Far too many children today are sullen, unfriendly, distant, preoccupied, and even unpleasant," Shaw argues. "They whine, nag, throw tantrums, and demand constant attention from their parents, who are spread too thin to spend enough time with them. Feeling guilty and anxious, the parents in turn sooth their kids with unhealthy snacks, faddish clothing, toys, and media."
Something has gone desperately wrong with America's kids. Evidence seems to flow daily from news reports and personal observation. Far too many kids are rude, belligerent, and hopelessly self-centered. Tendencies toward violence and abusive behavior have been filtering down from teenagers to younger children. A loss of shared morality and parental discipline has produced a generation of tiny dictators with endless demands.
In order to deal with this phenomenon, our society has sought to medicalize the problem. Millions of American children are diagnosed with newly-discovered "diseases" and "syndromes." As Shaw notes, "A host of new 'clinical diagnoses' have been invented to explain why children seem totally spoiled, untrained, and unsocialized, and an incredibly large number of children have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and bombarded with psychoactive drugs." In some school systems, nearly half of all boys in ages four through eight are reported to be on psychotropic drugs such as Ritalin. What kind of society would turn to chemicals in order to deal with what is at base a moral and cultural pathology?
Refreshingly, Shaw refuses to shift the blame to culture at large. Instead, he focuses his attention on parental neglect and the failure of parents to fulfill their responsibility. He blames this on a weakening of what society expects of parents and a confusion about how parents are to fulfill their role.
"We used to be clearer about the importance of parenting, but somehow we've forgotten what children actually require in order to grow into happy, responsible adults. We've lost our sense of what matters most in our children's lives--and when we do know, we're not spending the time and energy to make it happen."
Beyond this, Shaw describes a "great conspiracy of silence." This conspiracy is one product of political correctness. But, as Shaw insists, "some of our lifestyle choices are not in the best interest of our children, despite our loving intentions, and...they compromise their opportunity for the connections and rituals and nurturing that are so necessary to children's healthy development." Imagine that--a psychiatrist in Berkeley, California warning parents that some lifestyle choices are harmful to children. Something is going on here.
Piece by piece, Shaw takes apart the massive edifice of permissive parenting that has been built over the last half-century of the American experience. He goes after such ideas as the "family bed," arguing that this kind of commune on a mattress is not healthy for either children or their parents. "Children develop resources sleeping alone that are essential for adaptation in our complicated culture. Sure, they're going to be happy about being equal participants in what is essentially the core of the marital relationship. But in allowing them to maintain that delusion, we only postpone the day when they learn that they are not the center of the universe, and not on a par with their parents in power and presence."
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