Dr. Leonard Sax thinks modern American parents don't know what they're doing when it comes to raising kids. Instead of teaching them right from wrong, helping them develop humility and conscientiousness, and just giving them the basics, the family physician says parents obsess about things like self-esteem and happiness.
The result, he argues in a series of books, is a rise in childhood obesity, ADHD and anxiety diagnoses, and poor educational performance when compared with our international peers.
Sax's most recent book, “The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-Ups,” takes a scenario from his own medical practice:
A 6-year-old came in feeling unwell. When Sax said he needed to examine the boy, the mother asked the child, “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 child refused and eventually had to be restrained so his throat could be swabbed to test for strep.
This approach, Sax argues, undermines the adult-child role of authority.
“It’s not a question,” Sax writes, “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.”
Sax blames parenting experts who encourage parents to offer children choices "instead of telling them what to do," as well as parents who buy into this idea, according to a recent story about the doctor and his societal diagnosis in the Austin 360 parenting blog.
Sax says modern parents see their roles as facilitators for whatever kids want to do, rather than role models for self-control, humility and conscientiousness. He points out that parents these days spend way more time with their kids than in previous generations, but that much of that time is spent shuttling them to activities.
Sax, whose other books include “Boys Adrift” and “Girls on the Edge,” recommends the following in order to become stronger parents who can raise good kids:
Have family meals at home, and make that a top priority.
It's where they learn about nutrition, health and family values.
Take screens out of the bedroom.
They'll sleep better, studies show.
Put screens in public places, and limit how they are used.
It's easier to monitor what they are doing and the sites they are visiting.