Poor Mom And Dad!

I am struck by the irony that behavioral psychologists are now writing books to remedy some of the problems triggered by their own colleagues years ago. This is especially true in the realm of parenting where parents have been told by “pop-phychologists” how to raise their kids for many years now. I referred recently to a book by Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell that deals with the narcissism they are convinced stems from the “self-esteem” movement that has taken over the schools –and our homes. Like the teachers, parents have bought into the notion that their kids need more self-esteem and the way to achieve that goal is to keep telling them they can walk on water. As Twenge and Campbell point out in their book “Thinking that you’re great when you actually stink is a recipe for narcissism, yet this is what many parents and teachers encourage in children every day in the name of self-esteem.”

Twenge and Campbell admit that a part of the problem, at least, stems from some of the books their colleagues wrote back in the 60s and 70s — books such as PET: Parent Effectiveness Training written in the early 70s which told parents to be less authoritarian and that they need to be “pals” with their kids, insisting that “saying adults know more [than their kids]. . .is akin to the belief that some racial groups are superior to others.” Seriously! In a word, parents shouldn’t be telling their kids what to do, they should ask the kids what they want and go from there. The roles of parents and kids soon began to reverse, according to Twenge and Campbell, as parents became kids and kids became parents — telling their parents what they wanted and even what they should be doing.

My sense of things is that this movement dovetailed with the growing need felt by parents in the 70s and 80s for both Mom and Dad to work in order to provide their families with the material goods our commodified culture insists will guarantee them “the good life,” a life that was repeatedly paraded before them on their television sets. This trend has continued and, if the parents are not separated or divorced, they spend less time with their kids, are tired when they get home from work (feeling a bit guilty) and they take the path of least resistance which is simply to let the kids have their heads. “Yes” is easier to say than “No.”

All of this is coupled with the growing self-esteem movement to translate into a doctrine that turned the homes and schools upside down: parents and teachers now want to be friends with the kids and center their lives and teaching around what the kids want. In the schools this movement was carried along by the student-centered educational theories of John Dewey and his colleagues at the University of Chicago initiated in the early part of the twentieth century resulting in a strange blend of common sense (the child matters) with nonsense (the child rules).

In any event, psychologists like Twenge and Campbell are now back-peddling frantically as they try to make parents realize that it was all a terrible mistake: by putting the child at the center of the family’s universe, he or she becomes the center of their own universe. The chickens are coming home to roost. The self-esteem movement has resulted in kids who turn into dictatorial, narcissistic adults (as mentioned in a previous blog) who are convinced that they are entitled to be handed the controls of their lives and the lives of those around them (including their parents and teachers), creating growing numbers of adults who live in a self-centered, fantasy universe, talking, singing, and writing about themselves — the only interesting people they know. These are character flaws that cannot be easily altered.  The tiny snowball the pop-psychologists started down the mountain in the 60s and 70s has now become an avalanche.

The solution to this cultural malady is for the parents and teachers to simply resume control of the homes and schools. They need to teach the kids the meaning of the word “no” and mean it when they say it. I would also add that we need to pay more attention to what kids need and less attention to what they say they want. Kids need structure and discipline: it helps bring them back to reality from the fantasy world they have come to believe is real and it centers their lives. As things now stand they are becoming increasingly self-absorbed, conceited, aggressive, and convinced that they are entitled to wear the crown that rightfully belongs to the adults who used to rule the world and who now sit at their feet nervously waiting to be told what to do.

5 thoughts on “Poor Mom And Dad!

  1. Very interesting post. I think we (my wife and I) have been guilty of too much self-esteem boosting on occasion. It is a delicate balance. I think the “false praise” comment of one of your earlier posts was on the money. As a parent, I want to praise solid effort, but at some point, we should expect the effort and should praise more accomplishment. I think it depends on where the child is. If my child worked there fanny off and got a “B” grade I would praise that more than if they phoned it in and got a “B.” Thanks for writing this as parenting is more art than science. BTG

  2. But of course I agree with all of the above! I’ll never forget when I asked one young art student if he really wanted me to call his parents about his behavior. He huffed up his chest and said, ‘Go ahead. Call.” Once I handed the headmaster a note that stated: “These students give me trouble every week. These students rarely give me trouble but did today. These students have never misbehaved in class.’ I did not want the latter to be punished with the rest, but that day the class was out of control. I had never turned in a report on students! The headmaster laughed and said, ‘if you lost your temper with that class, they deserved it!’

    The next day, one mother came by the class and stated, ‘My daughter will NEVER misbehave in your class again.” (daughter was in the middle group)… I will always respect that mother for honoring the teacher, and hopefully that one moment of unruly behaviour was nudged out of her daughter’s character.

    Sigh. I wonder what happened to all of those souls! Hopefully they’re living responsible lives!


    • Parents are now going to college professors and complaining about their kids’ grades. I had to deal with a couple myself. This is the age of entitlement. When a person fails it is never their fault!


  3. I couldn’t agree more. I have three young children and I encourage their individual talents, praise their accomplishments, and hug them and tell them I love them a million times a day. But, I am always the parent, and I will call them out when they have done wrong and mete out (non-violent) consequences for bad behavior. My husband and I raise them with the belief that our job is to raise them to be responsible, self reliant, caring adults who understand that the world does not revolve around them, that life is far from fair, and they have a responsibility not just to themselves but to everyone around them. I saw Dr. Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MS Ed, speak when my oldest was about 3 years old. I then read his book, Building Resilience in Children and Teens. It is a book I refer to often, and encourage other parents to read. He talks about issues of entitlement, character, delaying gratification, and much more. If you haven’t checked out his work, I encourage you to do so. It is far from “pop-psych-parenting”. As a parent of young children, I do see a change, slow as it may be, in swinging away from the misguided “you are perfect and can do no wrong and life is and should always be fair my friend” style of parenting, to that of raising kids who will be able to function independently and cope with the real world. When my middle son, who was terrified to ride a bike without training wheels, finally got on that two wheeled bike after many times hearing from me and his father, you’re going to fall, a lot, but it’s the only way you’ll learn, I felt scared for and proud of him at the same time. He did fall, a lot. There were many tears and lots of hugs. But we just kept telling to get back on it, that he would get it eventually. And he did. He is learning the value of perseverance, and to value his ability to do things on his own. He knows when we say, “Great work”, that it is genuine, that is is true, not empty bullsh**. He knows he will not be the best at everything, but he does know that he has his own special talents that with trial and error, he will figure out. He is perfectly happy to write and illustrate stories, build Lego dynasties, and laugh with his friends at goofy jokes, while his older brother is happy riding his bike like a wild man and running around on the soccer field. My kids know they don’t have to do it all, they can’t do it all, and they don’t have to be perfect. We each have our own “thing” to savor and appreciate, and share with the world. We do our best to apply this to all areas of our parenting. It’s a challenge, it’s not the easy way. But the joy on my son’s face when he rides past me with no training wheels, makes those challenges sweet.

    • Great comment. Many thanks, Ilene. I do hope you are right and that there is a trend away from unwarranted self-esteem. It is a serious problem and will take a major mind-set to move in a different direction. You sound like a great parent. Keep it up!

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