I have always marveled at some of my client parents who find it impossible to say “no” to their children. Some of these have been high powered professionals who wouldn’t hesitate to fire an employee who was messing up, and are aggressive at asserting themselves across the board. No problem there. But these same people will melt and become helpless when challenged by their children. When the subject is their children, these same high powered professionals almost ooze fear that if they disciplined them, their children wouldn’t like them. It seems to be a desperate goal of “popularity at any cost.”
In my view the cost can be very high. Without discipline (meaning to educate), some of these undisciplined children will learn boundaries and proper behavior from an unforgiving society through brushes with the law, inadequate education or even a reputation as a selfish jerk. Fortunately most of these children will somehow figure it all out on their own and do fine. But some don’t, having missed those critical early years learning respect, accountability and self confidence.
The parents I’ve seen in my practice as an independent educational consultant who fit this description of being unable to discipline their children were in the process of obligating thousands upon thousands of dollars for a residential program that will teach their children those boundaries they were unable (or unwilling) to teach them.
To be fair, many of these parents looking to residential placement appeared to have the right idea of parenting, but for a variety of reasons the lessons didn’t stick. Those are not the parents I’m talking about. I’m talking about those parents who just could not bring themselves to discipline their children and then looked to residential professionals for emotional growth rehabilitation.
From Australia comes an article that sheds some light on this phenomena. Titled The Parent Trap , it refers to a recent study comparing the reactions of parents and teachers to children born about 1980 and those born around 2000. The differences were striking. The parents of those born around 1980 reported their children were more troublesome than the parents of the other group reported. The teachers on the other hand had exactly the reverse view, that the group born about 2000 had more behavioral problems.
The conclusion was that there had been a major shift in the attitudes of the parents.
It was suggested that parents had changed “from figures of authority, to figures of fun.”
It seemed to reflect that a culture change of “child-centrism is producing a generation of youngsters with ‘towering self-esteem and … unabashed assertiveness.”
Another observation was due to the proliferation of parenting books, parenting courses and TV programs, “Parents are losing confidence in their ability to parent…. (They) don’t want to get anything wrong.”
Another observation by educators was “This is the most overprotective, intrusive generation of parents teachers can recall having to deal with.”
One study “found 95 percent of parents spoke, wrote to or visited their child’s teacher or classroom, but only about 45 per cent volunteered to help out in class.”
According to the article, in many cases parents seem to be outsourcing parenting, which is what I’ve seen all to often in my practice.
Again, to be fair, this is an observation on only a small percentage of the hundreds of parents I have worked with over the years. However, all indications are that this group (sometimes call helicopter parents) is increasing.