When kids grow up funny, it's not always their fault. Or: Why parents must remember who they are and why.
The personality trait researchers have found predictive of life satisfaction, health, and lifespan turns out to be conscientiousness. The kind of self-control needed to live a long, happy life is not something kids are born with. They need to get used to regulation while they are younger. And here again, Sax finds the parents that come to see him are simply throwing up their hands. He does not blame the childhood obesity epidemic on the widespread availability of supersize sugary drinks or some plot by potato-chip companies to make sure we can’t eat just one. He blames parents who do not accustom their children to the taste of healthy foods when they are young.
There are modern parents who will dismiss Sax as naive and his demand that parents make their children finish their broccoli before eating dessert as quaint. But there is plenty of evidence he is right. You can offer kids healthy options at lunch in the manner prescribed by Michelle Obama, but if you give them the choice and they know they will get pizza and chicken nuggets later, then it’s not much of a choice.
Parents have not only given up on mandating vegetables, many have stopped enforcing a bedtime. This is a problem Sax has seen repeatedly in his patients. Kids were playing video games or texting their friends well into the night without their parents’ knowledge. And when a child was not focusing in class as a result of this sleep deprivation, his parents turned to medication as the solution.
The constant communication in which kids are engaged is also symbolic of a much larger shift in the culture. Kids, Sax notes, care much more what their peers think than what their parents think. And, he argues, our culture encourages kids to have a low opinion of their parents and adults more generally.
It is a “culture of disrespect,” Sax writes. It’s not just that the children he encounters regularly talk back to their parents or tell them to “shut up” in front of other adults. Their behavior is regularly tolerated and even encouraged. From T-shirts that say, “I don’t need you. I have Wi-Fi” or “Do I look like I care?” to the shows on Disney Channel in which parents are perpetually absent or incompetent, the message kids get is that adults are clueless.
Why, Sax wonders, do parents tolerate this kind of attitude? Among the “misconceptions” he hears: “I want my child to be independent. So when she talks back to me or is disrespectful, I try to see that in a positive light, as a sign that she is becoming more independent. And I support that.” These people sound as if they are suffering from battered-parent syndrome.
Oh, amen. There is a lot more at the link, and I encourage you to read and absorb it.