(CNN)Every couple of years a book or article arrives diagnosing parents with catastrophic spinelessness. The power pyramid has been inverted, they warn, and the children are in, and therefore out of, control.
“Command. Don’t ask. Never negotiate,” instructs Leonard Sax in his 2016 book “The Collapse of Parenting,” in which he blames parents for a number of society’s ills, including obesity and mental illnesses.
I know reading such indictments of me and my peers will, despite my instinct to dismiss them, produce feelings of shame and ineptitude. I read them anyway, drawn to their specious certainty about a possible world in which children always do as told and teeth-brushing takes 2½ minutes.
While my husband and I are pretty good about standing by a “no,” we do allow for some conversation and negotiation on our way there. Are we ceding too much ground? Also, when it comes to our daily eating and sleeping routine, we lean a little toward flexibility — and away from structure. While more rigidity might establish more parental authority, it would also generate more insanity as we’d all struggle to uphold the systems we put in place. How bad is it to allow life, and all its attendant feelings and chaos, to occasionally get in the way?
According to Katherine Lewis, author of the new book “The Good News About Bad Behavior,” it’s time to let go of these concerns. “The command and control, the ‘I’m in charge’: it doesn’t work,” she said.
Lewis wrote her book in response to what she sees as a crisis of self-regulation among kids today. This, she explains, is the reason why nearly half of today’s children will develop a mood disorder, behavioral disorder or substance abuse problem by age 18.
There are four forces behind this, including the rise of social media and web culture, which has us “always looking outside ourselves,” along with the decline of community and unstructured play time. Today’s children tend to roam the world as independent contractors, and are taught to focus more on individual achievement rather than their contributions to family, neighborhoods and friends.
The last force in Lewis’ quartet? Parents. Lewis said that while she doesn’t blame us, many parents would benefit from rethinking our approach to discipline.
One of the first steps, she explains, is separating our ideas of parental authority from the days of “Father Knows Best.” While this authoritarian approach worked in the past, it’s ineffective for today’s generation of young ones who are far more comfortable with collaboration.
“There are no longer these straight lines of authority. The boss is no longer in charge of the dad, the dad is no longer in charge of the mom, and the mom is no longer in charge of the kids. They are growing up in a culture of democracy and equality and they feel that,” she explained,…
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