As many know, parenting isn’t an easy job. It can be hugely frustrating and even lonely trying to figure out what’s best for your kid. Should you be a taskmaster or a best friend? Is there a middle ground? The pressures of full-time work and round-the-clock activities can make that question even more challenging to tackle.
Dr. Leonard Sax has experience in guiding these relationships as a family physician and psychologist in Pennsylvania. His new book, The Collapse Of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown Ups is informed Sax’s personal and professional observations.
“That’s what motivated it, but this is not a rant. It’s not a sermon,” he says, adding that his book is grounded in more than 400 studies.
In an interview with NPR’s Rachel Martin, Dr. Sax discusses what he sees as a widespread trend of dissolving healthy relationships between kids and their parents.
On the meaning of the book’s title
The point of the book is, look, you need to give kids choices in some domains but not in others. I’m seeing a lot of parents who are really confused about in what domain is it appropriate to give kids a choice. For example, is it OK for your 14-year-old to take their cell phone to bed with them? My answer is no. But so many parents think it is their job to be their child’s best friend. That’s not your job. Your job is to keep your child safe, make sure they get a good night’s sleep and give them a grounding and confidence and help them to know who they are as human beings.
On the problems with parent-child relationships he’s seen over the years
So many kids today care so much more about the opinions of other kids than they do about their parents’. And that’s really harmful because the regard of your peers, if you’re an 8-year-old or 14-year-old, that can change overnight. So if you’re concerned first and foremost about what your peers think, you’re gonna be anxious. And we’ve seen a 400 percent explosion in anxiety among American kids in the United States over the last 30 years. An American kid in the United States is now 14 times more likely to be on medication for ADD compared to a kid in the United Kingdom.
On the correlation between medication and the collapse of parenting
I can tell you exactly how it happens. Here’s a typical story: This boy tells his parents that he’s having trouble concentrating and focusing and they take him to a board-certified child psychiatrist. And the child psychiatrist says, “Ah, sounds like maybe ADHD, let’s try Adderall or Vyvanse and see if it helps.” And oh my gosh, what a difference — medication helps enormously. The child, the teacher, the parent and even the prescribing physician saying, “Hey this medication was prescribed for ADD, it’s clearly been helpful, therefore this kid must have ADD.” But he doesn’t.
The parents bring him to me for a second opinion and I ask some questions like, “What do you do in the evening?” and the parents have no idea, he’s in his bedroom with the door closed so his parents don’t know what’s going on and they think he’s asleep but he’s not. He’s staying up ’til 1 or 2 in the morning playing video games night after night. He’s sleep-deprived. And if you’re sleep-deprived you’re not gonna be able to pay attention and all the standard questionnaires, Conners Scales, etc. cannot distinguish whether you’re not paying attention because you’re sleep-deprived or because you truly have ADD.
On the challenges that will come with altering parenting style
It depends on how you’ve been parenting so far. And the earlier the child, the easier it is to make a change. If you’ve been the permissive parent who lets kids take their phones and their devices into their bedrooms with them, lets kids decide what’s for supper, it’s gonna be a challenge. And I recommend that you sit down with your child and say, “Hey, there’s gonna be some changes here.”
So, for example, one mom took the cell phone away because her daughter’s spending all her time texting and Snapchatting. And the daughter didn’t push back. And her friends were like “Oh, you know her mom’s the weird mom who took her phone away.” The real push back — and this is what surprised this mom — came from the parents of her daughter’s friends, who really got on her case and said, “How can you do this?” and this mom told me that she thinks the other parents are uncertain, unsure of what they should be doing and so that’s why they’re lashing out at her — the one mom who has the strength to take a stand.