21st century child-rearing approaches proving toxic to effective parenting and our kids’ emotional well-being
From June Clever to Desperate Housewives
Ah the joys of raising our next generation! Frankly, I can’t imagine any other job that is more challenging and rewarding; frustrating and joyous than parenting. It’s perhaps the most significant role we’ll ever have (we’re talking about raising a human being for Pete’s sake) and also the only one that doesn’t require a single credential. And it’s the only job that by the time you’re done you finally have sort of figured out how to do it right. From those everyday challenges like getting your kids to brush their teeth, say “please” or make their beds, to those more worrisome issues such as drinking, sexual promiscuity or eating disorders, raising kids has never been easy. But in the last few years, child rearing has become even more challenging.
Over the last few decades there has been a major swift in how we raise our kids, and the descriptions of modern day parenting are far from flattering. Try these for starters: Helicoptering.Hothousing. Snowplowing. Hyper-Parenting.
In all fairness, part of our more super octane-charged mode is due to today’s culture. June Cleaver and Claire Huxtable certainly didn’t deal with hair-raising kid concerns such as cyberbullying, school shootings, and online predators, nor serious issues such as eating disorders, depression, and anxiety that face school age youngsters today.
Sure, we love our kids, want only the best for them, and will do anything in the world for them, but the truth is our new parenting approaches aren’t doing them any favors. In fact, many of those styles contradict over fifty years of solid research proving what kids really do need for solid character, emotional health, and fulfillment. Several modern day child-rearing approaches are so toxic to effective parenting that I call them the “Seven Deadly Parenting Styles.” I am convinced using them is a bit part of why we’re so darn dissatisfied, stressed out and lack confidence in our parenting and why too many of our kids are stressed and emotionally unhealthy.
Here are those seven deadly styles from my book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries (where they are described much more in depth with facts, figures, and solutions).
Seven Toxic Modern-Day Parenting Styles
Be honest: might any be describing your parenting? All of us are guilty of some of these styles and to some degree. The key question is to ask yourself if the style is the typical approach to how you raise your children. If so, are you notice that that style could be affecting your child’s emotional, social, cognitive, physical or moral development? If so, it may be time for a change. By the way, if you’re not seeing these in yourself, are you recognizing them in other Moms and Dads?
Deadly Style 1: Helicopter Parenting
Hovering over your kids, hurrying to smooth every one of life’s bumps
It’s a bird…it’s a plane…it’s a helicopter parent! These parents constantly hover, and stop at next to nothing when it concerns their kids. They finish their homework, do and redo those science projects, and swoop into rescue mode solving each and every kid problem. But beware: if kids have always been rescued or micromanaged, they may have had too little practice in developing such critical life traits such as self-reliance, decision-making and problem solving.
The change to parent for is learning to be involved but not intrusive in your child’s life, so that she develops a healthy sense of independence and can cope someday without you. Start by identifying tasks your kid can do-like making her lunch or doing laundry-without relying always on you. Then teach just one new skill at a time, and once mastered back off. Explain your new policy: “No more excuses or rescue.” And stick to your new motto: “Never do for your child what your child can do for herself.”
Deadly Style 2: Incubator “Hothouse” Parenting
Pushing your kids into learning earlier than appropriate for their cognitive age and developmental level
There’s nothing new about parents wanting their children to excel, but these days their quest is all about raising the SuperKid (aka “a mentally-superior child”). Forget what developmental guidelines, based on years of scientific observations, recommend as suitable to your child’s age and stage. These parents push, push, push, all so our kids will (they hope) achieve, achieve, achieve, and then are crazy worrying that they’re kids aren’t going to be good enough. There’s no time for kid play: it’s all about tutoring, doing extra “mind-building” activities, schedules, and studying. But we’re seeing an impact from this parenting style that isn’t pretty. Childhood stress, anxiety, perfectionism, depression, as well as cheating have never been higher.
The change to parent for is learning to appreciate your child’s natural talents and abilities, and fit your parenting to his child’s developmental stage and not for what you want him to be.
Use the Rubber Band Test as your check and balance. Pretend you’re holding a strong rubber band with both hands, then ask yourself if your expectation stretches your child’s potential without unintentionally snapping self-worth.
For instance: you expect you son to be a great shortstop when he’s more into playing chess. Or you keep your daughter in that accelerated math class though she can barely keep up. Stretch gently; don’t snap! Check those child development guides!
Deadly Style 3: (Quick-Fix) Band-Aid Parenting
Relying on fast solutions to temporarily fix a problem, instead aiming for real, lasting change
We’re tired. We’re harried. We need everything to be easy and quick, including our discipline approach. We’ll do anything to get our kids to act right—as long as it’ll work right now. So we use those fast 1-2-3 methods “That’s warning one…warning two…warning three…” to head off a tantrum, buy those fancy behavior charts, promise our kid the coolest new tech game if he’s good or money for every high grade.
The problem is quick-fix strategies only teach kids to act right based on warnings, rewards, or money. Oh, they can give relief, but it’s only temporary and almost never creates real, lasting change. And that’s why many of our kids keep relapsing back to using those same bad behaviors, and we end up more exhausted and discouraged.
The change to parent for is knowing that you need to learn effective discipline that helps your child understand what was wrong and how to make things right. Always take an extra minute to ask your child: “Tell me what you did that was wrong.” “Why was that wrong?” “What will you do differently next time?” And always make no assumptions: take time with a younger child to role-play the “right way.” Remember your goal is to help your child learn to act right without you.
Deadly Style 4: Buddy Parenting
Placing popularity with your child above establishing limits, boundaries or saying no
Nearly half of parents today admit that deep down they want to be their “child’s best friend,” and there sure is no bigger friendship ender like saying no. We can’t stand the idea of making an unpopular decision, turning our kids down, or (heaven forbid) disciplining our kids if doing so might cause them to resent us in any way. Right now they need a parent who sets rules and boundaries and doesn’t blur the line between buddy and adult. Besides the truth is our inability to turn our kids down isn’t helping our kids grow to be secure, responsible, resilient and compassionate. Instead, it is creating what most adults believe is the most spoiled and ill-behaved generation ever.
The change to parent for is learning to set clear boundaries, firm limits, and realize that what your child needs most is a parent and not a friend. Start by thinking through what you stand for and won’t tolerate in your child. Then let your kid know what those rules are and post them as your House Rules. If you pick your battles and put them in writing, you’re more likely to stick to what you think matters most and your child is more likely to adopt them for his code of conduct. And you’ve reestablished control.
Deadly Style 5: Accessory Parenting
Measuring your worth and success as a parent based on your child’s accolades
Forget healthy and well adjusted-over the past two decades what has taken precedence is spawning the “perfect” child whom we can proudly show off. And thus dawned the era of the “Trophy Kid Syndrome.” Every little accomplishment, test score, or hockey goal suddenly became bragging rights, and oh, how parents using this style love sharing those accolades. Showing them off is a living representation of a parent’s own worth, but if the child fails or receives a less than perfect score, it can only mean that the parent somehow flunked.
That’s because “Accessory parenting” is really about making our child an extension of our own wants, needs, and dreams. It fuels excessive competitiveness among parents and creates enormous guilt and stress if we feel our kids aren’t measuring up, leaving our kids feeling as though they’ve let us down.
If the style continues, the child’s identity is threatened, and unhealthy codependency emerges, with both parent and kid depending on each other for their sense of self-worth.
The change to parent for is learning to see your child as a unique individual separate from yourself. Switching your pronouns from “I” to “you” when you praise is a simple first step. It takes the emphasis off of your approval and boosts your child’s self-worth. Instead of: “I am so proud.” Say: “You must be proud of how hard you worked.” Also, encourage your child to acknowledge his own appropriate actions so he doesn’t rely on your accolades: “You stuck to that math problem. Did you remember to tell yourself that you did a great job persisting?”
Deadly Style 6: Paranoid Parenting
Obsessively keeping your child safe from any physical or psychological harm
Keeping kids safe is always a top parent priority, but these days there is a heightened fear of letting our kids out of our sight for even a nanosecond. Sure, it’s scary out there: kidnappers, terrorism, school shootings, cyberbullying, online pedophiles, tainted food and lead-painted toys. So we rein our kids in a little tighter, watch closer, protect far more—and sometimes to the extreme: “Don’t do that! You could get hurt!” “Don’t talk to strangers!” “Don’t go too far!”
But constantly fretting about dangers that just “might” happen only breeds fear into kids. In fact, the more we tighten our safety net, the more obsessed we become, and the more anxious and less confident our kids turn out. Is it any wonder that today’s kids are more anxious than any other generation?
The change to parent for in this style is learning to relax a bit more, realize when you’re being too protective so you child learns to face life, and handle your own worries so you don’t pass your fears to your child. Start by teaching your child a positive phrase she can say to herself to handle her concerns such as: “Go away worry. You can’t get me!” Or “I can handle this!” Practice one phrase until your child can use it alone. And if you practice together, you’ll learn the phrase as well, and will be more likely to keep your concerns to yourself.
Deadly Style 7: Secondary Parenting
Relinquishing your influence such that your children’s world is controlled more by outsiders-including corporations, marketers and the media
In case you haven’t noticed, today’s kids are media driven. Computers. WII. Youtube. Video games. TV. Facebook. Ipods. DVDs. Cell phones. Today’s average eight to 17-year old is plugged into some device seven and a half hours a day! In fact, many kids spend more time involved with media than with anything else but sleeping. And all that “plugged-in” time means less face-to-face time with us. Once we take a “secondary” role in our child’s eyes, we begin to loose our power, and the prevailing culture becomes our substitute. Your child also becomes vulnerable to outside pressures; he is more likely to rely on someone other than you to guide him, and more likely to adopt others’ values.
The change to parent for is realizing that you are the most powerful influence in guiding your child’s values, attitudes and behavior as well as in protecting him against risky behaviors; and intentionally find ways to stay more involved in your child’s life. Over the next week chart how much time your family really is plugged in watching TV, texting, playing video games, and surfing the net. Decide the right amount of plugged in time, and then create “sacred family unplugged times” such as family meals or certain times during the day. Announce, post, and preserve those times.
Tips to Make Parenting Change Possible
So you recognize you need to change. Now what? Well, after working with hundreds of parents, I’m convinced there are a few tips that will enhance your efforts to achieve long-term behavior change and boost your confidence.
~ Focus on one challenge at a time. Don’t overwhelm yourself or your child by trying to change too many behaviors at once. Putting your energy on one thing helps you succeed. Just take small steps.
~ Keep a journal of your progress. Rereading your notations may help you see behavior patterns (and progress!) that you otherwise might have missed.
~ Track the targeted behavior on a calendar. If your plan is effective, you’ll gradually see a decline in the frequency of the old style and you’ll know you’re succeeding. It also reminds you to stick to the plan for 21 days (how long new behavior takes).
~ Form a support group with another parent or two. Commit to meeting regularly. You’ll realize that other parents’ kids have similar behavior problems as yours—which is always a bit comforting–as well as have the chance to hear their suggestions of what works or doesn’t work in ridding bad behaviors.
One of the most critical roles in our lives is to help our children become happy, self-reliance, and compassionate human beings. There is no reward more fulfilling than knowing you have made an enduring difference in your child’s life. In fact, it’s our ultimate reward!
All you really need to succeed is patience, common sense, a few proven parenting strategies, and above all, your instinct. After all, no one—absolutely no one—knows your child better than you.
I am an educational psychologist, parenting expert, TODAY show contributor and author of 22 books.
You can also refer to my daily blog, Dr. Borba’s Reality Checkfor ongoing parenting solutions and late-breaking news about child development.
You can also find dozens more research-based and practical tips in my latest book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. This blog was adapted from the introduction to The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. Please honor the copyright. Thank you.
Resources for this article:
Glen Egelman, M.D. in Stephen C. Caufield, “Ninth Leadership Forum: Student Health 2010: What Changes Will the Next Five Years Bring?” Student Health Spectrum, Feb. 2006, pp. 4-18.
Hara Estroff Marano, A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting, New York: Broadway Books, 2008; Alisa Quart, Hothouse Kids: How the Pressure to Succeed Threatens Childhood, New York: Penguin, 2006.
Based on survey carried out by Synocate in 2004, cited by C. Honore, Under Pressure: How the Epidemic of hyper-Parenting Is Endangering Childhood, Canada: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008, p. 33.
Term from Gay Edelman, Senior Editor of Family Circle shared in a personal conversation with the author.
Diane E. Levin and Jean Kilborune, So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do To Protect Their Kids, NY: Ballantine Books, 2008, p. 66.
Rideout and E. Hamel, The Media Family: Electronic Media in the Lives on Infants, Toddlers, Preschools and Their Parents Menlo Park, CA: Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, May 2010.