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Parents With Authority Make For Happy, Stable Families

Children don't need their parents to be their friends. That's what they have peers for. A family is one place where a hierarchy is not only appropriate, it's ideal, as children need guidance, limits, and consequences as well as love, care and nurturing.
Angry mother scolding a disobedient child
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Angry mother scolding a disobedient child

I just read the January 7, 2016 article in MacLeans Magazine by Cathy Gulli, entitled, "The Collapse of Parenting, and Why it's Time For Parents to Grow Up." I was happy to see such an article featured in a national news magazine.

Coincidentally, my own Huffington Post article decrying permissiveness in parenting, education and the workplace, came out on the same day and my thoughts in that piece were very much in agreement with the points made by Ms Gulli and the experts she quoted.

I appreciated reading about Dr. Leonard Sax, a Pennsylvania-based family physician and psychologist who is famous for his work on child development, and the author of The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-Ups.

In the article, Dr. Sax is quoted as saying in his book that overly-permissive parenting "is at least partly to blame for kids becoming overweight, overmedicated, anxious and disrespectful of themselves and those around them."

In her article, Ms. Gulli mentions Gordon Neufeld, a Vancouver psychologist and co-author, with Dr. Gabor Mate, of the book, Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers.

Dr. Neufeld describes how a "culture of disrespect" has grown up in North America, in which children are less and less attached to their parents and more and more likely to listen to peers who are in no position to help them learn the difference between right and wrong, or how to behave in society. Dr. Neufeld explains how young children "are not rational beings" and can't be expected to hold each-other accountable.

In the article, Dr. Sax is quoted as saying that children who aren't taught right from wrong by their parents, but instead are left to discover this on their own are "much more likely to be anxious, depressed, less likely to be gainfully employed, less likely to be healthy, more likely to be addicted to drugs or alcohol." He also says that recent studies demonstrate that children who have authoritative parents "have better outcomes."

What I've observed as a psychiatrist in long-term practice is that parents who think they should be friends with their children, who are inconsistent with their children, or who think that they ought to consult with their children on decision-making, are in fact, hurting their children.

Children don't need their parents to be their friends. That's what they have peers for. A family is one place where a hierarchy is not only appropriate, it's ideal, as children need guidance, limits, and consequences as well as love, care and nurturing.

Children who are constantly being consulted on important decisions will lose respect for their parents (if they ever had it in the first place) and instead of feeling empowered, will be less equipped emotionally to handle the rigours of adult life than those children whose parents take a leadership role in the family.

Children will never learn how to manage in the real world if they don't have strong adult role models, if they don't learn what's expected of them, if they don't learn to associate their actions with consequences, if they aren't taught how to get along with others, if they aren't shown how to respect authority, or if they never learn to be responsible for themselves.

Parents today are too preoccupied with their children liking them, and that's selfish. They're thinking more about themselves than about what's good for their kids. Kids don't need to like their parents, they need to love and respect them, and if parents are fair and firm, they'll get both from their children.

Parents mistakenly think that it's bad for a child's self-esteem if they're scolded or given a consequence for misbehaving or for failing to do what was asked of them. The opposite is true. Children will fail to develop self-esteem if things come too easily for them, if they aren't given the opportunity to learn from their mistakes, or if they're always being praised without ever having to earn it.

Many parents today are reacting against the hurtful parenting they grew up with, and that's understandable. They don't want to mistreat their children the way they were mistreated. But parenting in reaction to what happened in the past is doomed to be bad parenting, just as any reactive choice will always be a bad one.

Parents don't have to go to the other extreme in order to avoid being hurtful to their children. Setting limits, establishing guidelines and providing consequences have nothing to do with being abusive. This type of parenting is good for children and will help them to grow up to be responsible, conscientious, hard-working, respectful, humble, thoughtful, and considerate adults.

Parents who are leaders raise children who have good self-esteem, rather than an inappropriate sense of entitlement. Parents who try too hard to please their children or who are overly lenient with them will raise children who as adults, are lost, with inappropriate expectations of themselves, others and the world.

The most loving thing parents can do for their children today is be real parents. Not buddies, room-mates, collaborators, or enablers. Children are unformed little beings, and the only way they're going to develop the skills and values necessary to function successfully as adults is to to be guided by their parents. They're simply not going to learn what they need from TV, their buddies, or the internet.

When I read Ms. Gulli's, article it led me to think about Cesar Millan, the "Dog Whisperer," who promotes an attitude of calm assertive energy when it comes to training a puppy. Mr. Millan instructs the owner of a new puppy to "be the pack leader," who is "by definition, strong, stable, and consistent."

He says that many of his clients "are strong leaders in their jobs, but when they come home, they turn to mush with their dogs." He says that dogs "sense our confidence levels and will take control if they perceive us as weak. When this happens, bad behaviors...will develop." This seems to me to be the same difficulties many parents run into and the same advice we could offer them.

I sometimes used to watch the TV show, "Nanny 911," in which a nanny was brought into a home to help straighten out the wild, out-of-control children. In every instance, the problem was with the parents, who'd failed to be proper authority figures to their children, and whose children didn't respect them or listen to them.

Once the nanny got the parents to own their authority, the children were brought into line. More interestingly, once the parents began to set appropriate limits and dole out appropriate discipline, in every single case the kids were calmer, happier, more secure, and more loving and respectful toward their parents.

I've watched "The Dog Whisperer" and other TV shows that dealt with misbehaving dogs, and again, in every case, the bad pet behaviour was the fault of the owners who didn't assert their calm authority over their pet, and were left with anxious, aggressive animals. And again, in every case, once the owners claimed their position of authority, the dog became calm, loving, happy and well-behaved.

Of course, raising a child isn't exactly the same as raising a pet. But then again, it's not all that different, either. Even Dr. Sax is quoted in the MacLeans article as saying that parents need to be the "alpha" or "pack leader" of the family.

It seems clear to me that being the authority figure when it comes to your children, as opposed to being too permissive or lenient with them, is clearly the best way to raise a happy, healthy and successful individual; whether it's a puppy or a child.

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