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Kids These Days

Kids These Days

By Rich Simon Back in the Paleolithic era, when I was a kid, parents more or less knew what they were supposed to do. They were to feed, clothe, nurture, discipline, and teach children civilized values, so that they’d grow up to be pretty much like the parents themselves, only, hopefully, a little better off economically. That doesn’t mean, of course, that all parents necessarily performed all these tasks well. Nonetheless, there was a certain deep understanding throughout society that parental authority was necessary and good. Parents were expected to rule the household, kids were expected to obey, and society at large—school, neighborhood, place of worship, media, the cultural zeitgeist—largely reinforced and sustained these expectations.

Well, that was then, this is now. The old compact between family and society—each doing its part to protect and promote the whole—seems to be badly strained, if not flat-out broken. Never before in history have parents had to bring up kids in an environment so inimical to parental authority, so family unfriendly, as 21st-century American society. In the face of invasive, family-destabilizing external forces—including the omnipresent Internet, an overbearing and demanding school system, ubiquitous drugs and alcohol, ruthless consumer marketing to kids, endemic bullying, a family-supplanting youth culture, not to mention widespread economic uncertainty—“authoritative parenting” hardly stands a chance.

So what is our role as therapists in helping parents rise to the nearly impossible challenge of raising 21st-century kids? Back in the heyday of family therapy, we thought we knew the straightforward answers: Shoring up the family hierarchy, maintaining generational boundaries, re-engaging disengaged fathers (and too often blaming mothers), and of course the great therapeutic cure-all—promoting “better communication.” But part of clinical wisdom today means grasping how much more complicated it is than that and recognizing the impact of cultural forces that sabotage the traditional structure of the family and parents’ ability to “take charge.”

If therapists really want to help parents become better, stronger, and more legitimately authoritative fathers and mothers, we’ll need to reexamine some of our usual ways of doing business—the models, tools, theories, and habits of work with which we’re most comfortable. A good place to start is with checking out some of the links to articles that have appeared in the Networker in recent years, as well as our rebroadcast of our popular webcast series Parenting Skills: All You Need to Help Families Today, which will give you an up close and personal look at the work of some of our field’s leading experts in therapy with kids and families today. There’s no better way to get a vivid and immediate sense of what new ideas, methods, and perspectives might make an important contribution to your practice.

What have we learned about dealing with perplexing problems like school bullying, Internet addiction, and the declining economic prospects that appear to be persuading many kids to give up at earlier and earlier ages? How does our new understanding of neuroscience, attachment theory, and the role of early trauma in human development translate into more effective interventions in our consulting rooms?

If you often feel bewildered in just what to do with the children and parents coming to you for help (not to mention in knowing how to be helpful to your own kids), there is some comfort in recognizing that you are not alone. We have entered into a new territory. As Ron Taffel has written in the Networker, in today’s world “childhood and family life have become chaotically unbound and therapists feel the repercussions of that every day in the consulting room, often uncomfortably. But we must try not to be afraid of kids who know no bounds and are often contemptuous of their uncertain mothers and fathers. We must let today’s parents and their children, fellow travelers that they are, teach us where we need to go.”

Related Articles:
“The Decline and Fall of Parental Authority and What Therapists Can Do About It”
by Ron Taffel

“The ParentCircle: Tapping the Wisdom of True Experts” by David Flohr

“Vertically Challenged: Treating the Nonhierarchical Family” by Ron Taffel

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8 Responses to Kids These Days

  1. jonathan baylin says:

    Liked it Rich. Of course, I’d like to see the brain based parenting model included as a way to “get below the surface” to the underlying systems that support good parenting and to a better understanding of how the stresses of life today can interfere with these processes.

    Jon Baylin
    Brain Based Parenting with Daniel Hughes

  2. Michael Kuiper says:

    Hey Rich,
    Great topic. But won’t be complete without seriously addressing the plight of young men and boys today. See Christina Hoff Sommers and others. How about George
    Gilder, Men and Marriage or the earlier “Sexual Suicide”?

  3. This was an invaluable issue of the Networker – every parent and therapist should read it! #Parenting in our modern world certainly poses new challenges,and we need all the help, support and understanding we can muster! Olivia Mellan

  4. Regarding your article Kids These Days, I am thrilled that authoritative parenting is not in abundance anymore. I got the idea that you think it was or is a good thing. After raising kids, and teaching children and parenting for 25 years, I believe it created multiple problems for kids. Children the Challenge and Love and Logic are 2 of the best books ever written on parenting. The concepts in these books creates strong, compassionate, adults who can be independent, problem solve, and resolve conflicts. I hpoe you agree.

  5. Well, because we needed something, I started three years ago an Internship program at Glendora Schools with Trainees and Interns. There was no money for any of this and after three years and 7400 (conservatively) pro-bono hours of mental health in one elementary, two jr. High, and a continuation High School and comprehentive high school, one of the hallmarks of kids issues were “parents – lack of communication, understanding, time”…..drugs and alcohol were also big issues preventing a pleasant journey though pre-teen and teen years. I think we’re all going to need to do some volunteer work in our schools, and with the parents of kids in schools, if we want to wear our title of Marriage and Family Therapists! Parents are struggling, kids are struggling, couples are struggling – these are changing and very difficult times to navagate through life. We all need to do our part to help those who need to know they have choices and to take part in their families lives. We are part of a community, whether we live there or work there; in spite of challenges we face in mental health care, we need to pitch in. What would happen if each one of us donated 3 hours of our knowledge and training in our communities? Can you hear it now ?
    Judy in California

  6. Authoritative parenting, give me a break! Allene Gould, above, has it right along with Dreikurs and Glasser. My generation, mid ’60s is primarily responsible for the decay of our parenting. With the divorce rate at 50-60%, my generation created such hedonism that they forgot their common sense and core values and we wonder why kids lack respect! Kids and parents are constantly using the F bomb at each other! Sad, very sad.

  7. Takara says:

    This is a multi-level problem. It is still possible to raise happy, healthy kids, but the challenges must be addressed. I work with families in my practice, and the kids with the most problems are raised in one of two extremes: Having an autocratic, angry, arrogant parent, or in a very permissive, inconsistent household. When the parent is unbalanced, narcissistic, and has lots of family of origin issues, then it is difficult for them to set reasonable expectations, firm but flexible boundaries, and to not parent from an anxious perspective. Unless these parents deal with their own problems before having children, it is unlikely they will be very good parents. I am very concerned about this latest generation of kids I see being raised by angry, weak, or unstable adults. (I would like to note the difference between Authoritarian and Authoritative parenting, an unfortunate naming by the parenting experts. Authoritarian is old-school, my-way-or-no-way parenting; Authoritative is firm, clear rules and boundaries, and logical consequences but with flexibility, respect and consideration for differences accounted for.).

  8. terry blackwell says:

    You forgot one culprit in these societal changes: mental health experts and the self esteem fantasy. Unintended result: many parents fear discipline and rules when the culture awards a prize for every child and lets no one feel the consequences of their actions. Those who equate the above-mentioned Authoritative parenting as the opposite of love and compassion are the problem. Children depend on our love to set limits for them, as their first teachers. Priceless comment in local paper today from an experienced teacher: Let’s give every kindergartner a T-shirt that says: “No one loves you like your mother. Get over it.”

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