The Collapse of Parenting by Dr. Leonard Sax

I hardly ever write book reviews for just one book at a time- I usually combine several with my quarterly reading posts or book lists. But I haven't shut up about this book since I finished it a couple of weeks ago and I felt like it merited its own post. It's just really excellent (and if you don't believe me, ask my husband... I have talked his ear off about it and I'm also making him read it.) 

As usual, I heard about this book through Janssen (and her great review) and immediately requested it from the library. (That's basically my reading MO.) From the very first chapter, I could tell that it would not only be informative but also validating to the beliefs and opinions about children that I've established throughout my years of teaching (and thus observing a plethora of parenting styles and their results.) 

The author is Dr. Leonard Sax, a family physician and psychologist who has, over his 30+ years of medical practice, seen firsthand the decline of parental authority and the subsequent rise of childhood obesity, overly-medicated kids and teens, and the culture of disrespect that is so rampant in the majority of homes and schools today. As he points out throughout the book, the primary problem lies in the lack of parental authority. He defines authority not as discipline (although that plays a part) but as the value that children place on their parents' opinions and instructions. Compared to twenty or even ten years ago, that value is practically nonexistent.

When I was a teacher, I marveled at how my students sometimes talked to me... many times they didn't even consider themselves disrespectful as they contradicted, complained, or just gave me an attitude that I wouldn't have dreamed of showing to my teachers. It wouldn't have even crossed my mind, but today that type of behavior is a matter of course for American teens and even elementary-aged children. (In other countries, it's far less of an issue. I should also point out that most of my students were little darlings. =) Dr. Sax points out that this became a trend when parents stopped telling their children what to do and started suggesting, negotiating, coaxing, etc. So, rather than valuing their parents input, kids are much more interested in peer-age opinions- and whether than affirmation comes from high scores on a video game or lots of likes on Instagram, it has little to do with parental authority. 

It's natural that a breakdown in authority has led to kids who are inactive (hence the rising childhood obesity rates), overly medicated (the terrifying ramifications of using high-powered drugs on children have yet to even be explored fully), academically backward (the author cites another favorite of mine, The Smartest Kids in the World, which discusses in detail American education in comparison to international classrooms), and most importantly, fragile. In a world of "safe spaces" on college campuses and the inability for anyone to make a joke about, well, anything, it's pretty obvious that this last point is manifesting itself in a big way. 

The first few chapters are a little depressing. Reading about how awful some of these kids act is almost as much of a bummer as reading about how their parents just sit there and don't bat an eye at their behavior. (The chapter on medications alone was heartbreaking.) But the second half of the book focuses on solutions- namely, that we must teach our children self-control, conscientiousness, humility, and the meaning of life, along with spending quality time with them. The subtitle, "How We Hurt Our Kids when We Treat Them Like Grownups," doesn't mean giving them responsibilities and important tasks; it means that we are handing over the authority for choices and desires that they literally are not capable of making wisely. 

There are so many nuggets of wisdom and so many great examples that it's hard to narrow them down, but my biggest takeaway was probably his advice about screen time and the damaging affects that unsupervised, limitless screen time can have. It's a pretty fast read and definitely doesn't feel like a textbook; the statistics are balanced with lots of real-life examples. The media (and my own life experiences) have made it clear that many, many young people today are entitled, extremely sensitive, and totally apathetic toward what their parents and teachers think. Obviously that's not a good thing, and the results are a lot more serious than just a teenager rolling his eyes. (Also, out-of-control behavior is hardly limited to teenagers- children are rebelling and "giving orders" at home at younger and younger ages.) 

If I could force this book into the hands of every parent (and teacher) I know, I would. It's that good. (I also might shake their shoulders and say, "READ THIS!" in the nicest way possible.) I know I only have one child (and she's seven months old, so we're not too worried about her "attitude" just yet =) but these are things that I want to have decided months and even years before I actually have to test them. It's hard to be "that parent" who limits screen time and social media, maintains their authority, and makes time for family time that includes hard work and meaningful conversation, but it can be done. The "easy way out" actually leads to some terribly hard results, and Dr. Sax paints that unfortunate picture very clearly. 

We're just getting started on this parenting journey and just want to do the best we can. Here's hoping the worst thing I'll ever do to Alice is force her into matching outfits. =)

1 comment

  1. Yay! So happy you loved it. Don't you want to give everyone a copy for a baby shower?


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