Sax Says You’re A Bad Parent

This parenting article on Dr. Leonard Sax’s new book is circulating and it just makes my blood boil.

Leonard Sax is an American psychologist and a practicing family physician. He is best known as the author of three books for parents: Boys Adrift, Girls on the Edge, and Why Gender Matters.

First of all, I think mothers are harder on themselves and each other than ever before in history of human kind! For this guy to start off by telling people: “They’re doing everything wrong,” is such hyperbole and feeds off this sensational culture of anxiety around parenting. It’s hard to take anything he says seriously, but I tried ..

Sax’s golden rule: “Command. Don’t ask. Don’t negotiate”

I disagree: Empowering your children to make good choices means giving them options and letting them learn — sometime the hard way — that their choice was right or wrong. It also means guiding them and letting them know you trust them to make choices. You need to talk through tough decisions with them, so they know they can ask your advice when they need to. Negotiating is one of the most important life skills, why wouldn’t I want my children to be good at it?

Sax argues that children today don’t respect authority.

I would never want my kids to think that every adult is an authority over them. In the same vein, I would never want my kids to be rude or uncooperative with trusted authorities, like doctors. As with anything, you need confidence that your child isn’t an idiot and can distinguish between a doctor that you trust and a stranger.

“In his book he talks about a scenario in which parents and a 6-year-old child, who had a sore throat, came into his office. When he said, “Next I’m going to take a look at your throat.” The mom turned it into asking for permission by saying, “Do you mind if the doctor looks in your throat for just a second, honey? Afterward we can go and get some ice cream.”

That led to the child refusing to have the doctor look in her throat to do the strep test and the child having to be restrained to get the test accomplished.

“It’s not a question,” Sax says. “It’s a sentence: ‘Open up and say, “Ahh.”‘ “Parents are incapable of speaking to their children in a sentence that ends in a period,” he says.

I would argue, that this anecdote is hardly a scientific justification for an epidemic of rude kids, and more likely that the child had a sore throat and  didn’t like the idea of someone jamming a long, Q-tip down it. I liked that the mother asked a question to her child about someone doing something to his/her body. It’s an important thing for little girls and boys to understand their bodies don’t belong to anyone else, and that they have control over them, right?

A better question might have been: “Honey the doctor needs to do a throat culture so we know if you need medicine or not. Would you like to hold my hand while he does it?” But this dude takes it as if the child’s being impudent, when I’d argue they were scared. I wonder if he’d like it if some guy he sees once a year jammed something down his throat without asking him first, or at least telling him what was happening and why…

I am sure we could all cut down on the questions we ask our children, but I don’t think that helping your child through a stressful situation makes you a bad parent. Nor, do I think empowering a young person to feel ownership of her body is a negative trait.

It’s usually relatively easy to identify people raised in households where the mantra was “Because I’m the parent and I told you so.” Very often those adults don’t work well with others. They often fear of authority, which shows itself when they have a hard time taking feedback or being self aware. They have professional and personal conflicts with their subordinates, spouses and children because they don’t realize that authority is different from leadership. The latter requires a voluntary sense of trust, respect and admiration, but these folks were taught authority comes via a label, not a relationship built on trust, respect and admiration. Likewise, decisions can be made arbitrarily without analysis or consequence, because “that’s what I was told to do” by the authority, rather than “I agree this is a good idea, let’s move forward with it,” or “I have real reservations about this plan, can we take another look at potential options?” The my-way-or-the-high-way approach is great for spawning a generation of automatons, but not great thinkers, problem solvers, inventors or entrepreneurs.

I want my children to be kind to others, so I’m kind to them. I want them to make good decisions, so we talk about what a good choice is versus a bad choice. I don’t tell them: “I’m the authority so do what I say.” But, I do say: “Sometime you have to do what’s hard, because in the end it will be better for you.” One of my favorite lines is: “We can do this the easy way or the hard way,” it gives them the choice how it will go down, not if it will go down. Life is a series of choices, and kids start making serious choices younger and younger, so I want my kids to be super star decision makers.

The most important part of my job is preparing my children for failure. Life is hard. They will have their hearts broken. They will fail exams they studied for all semester. They will not get into every college they apply to or get every job they want. I can prepare them for those hardships by teaching them that life is about risks and rewards and how they make those choices. You have to take risks in order to feel a sense of reward, but it won’t always work out in a straight, linear way. Those tough bumps will be the biggest points of growth in their personal histories. I want them to know I’m here when they’re down. I’m rooting for them to get right back up and work even harder at the things they’ve struggled with until they can move on to the next challenge.

They will not be able to do any of that if I take their decision making skill away. Kids need a base of love, confidence and encouragement so they can fly freely and fall often, knowing they’re capable of picking themselves up again.

Kids act out, that’s how they learn. You have to discipline your kids, but I don’t know any mom who doesn’t.

“It doesn’t help to spend more time with kids if they are spending it in the wrong ways,” he says.”

Ok so apparently, we’re all shuttling our kids around too much, and not spending enough time at the dinner table together… My mom was practically a taxi driver with all the driving she did for the four kids in our family. We were in four different school, with different after-school commitments. Some of the best conversations I’ve had with my mom were in the car shuttling siblings around. You’re trapped together, you can’t escape and you have tons of time to talk. We may have sat at the dinner table for twenty minutes, but there were six of us all trying to express ourselves or be invisible depending upon the age and mood. Whereas, when we were in the car we had a lot of time and often periods where we were alone with her, which made for wonderful conversations! I’m not sure driving your kids around is new and I don’t think it makes for “bad time together.”

Look, we’re all doing the best we can and anyone trying to make money by making you feel badly about what you’re doing should be avoided at all costs and publicly called out. This negative, fear mongering is crazy. People have been parenting for a long ass time, and I don’t think anyone ever thought they did a perfect job. We have instincts to love and protect our offspring, so follow those and you’ll be OK. Promise.

Just for shits and giggles, this last paragraph is a real gem:

 “In his book, Sax cites numerous research studies that found that a lack of parental authority is why obesity is on the rise, why more kids are on anti-anxiety and attention deficit disorder medication, why children are have a culture of disrespect, seem fragile, and why American children no longer lead the world in education.”

Our unprecedented intake of sugar and processed foods has nothing to do with the obesity epidemic? And he claims it’s not the teachers unions, not the incredibly controversial testing methods and standards, not the lowered curriculum standards or lack of access to special assistance, not increased levels of poverty, not increases rates of incarceration, no no it’s all the parents fault that the US’s education no longer makes up the top ranks in world surveys.

You don’t have to take my word for it, though I’m grateful you’re still reading my rant, here’s Slate to debunk some of this sensationalized parenting crap from Sax’s new books:

“The problem is that scientists have been studying the relative influence of parents and peers on children and adolescents for decades, and they don’t agree with Sax’s diagnosis. “I have not seen any hard evidence to support the hypothesis that there is a secular trend toward greater peer influence,” says Kenneth Dodge, a psychologist and neuroscientist who directs Duke University’s Center for Child and Family Policy. As far back as the 1960s, Dodge told me, research has shown that as kids graduate into adolescence, they start to follow the beliefs of their peers more than their parents, and “the peer-influence effect in early adolescence was as strong [then] as it seems today,” he says. Psychologist Judith Rich Harris, who received a Pulitzer Prize nomination for her book The Nurture Assumption, which tackles the topic of peer versus parental influence, agrees: “Peer influence has always been important,” she says. “I’ve seen no evidence that this has changed in the past 40 years.”

Other things Sax cites as clear signs the world is going to hell in a hand basket: Kids today wear obnoxious T-shirts, TV shows aren’t as good as they used to be, and Miley Cyrus. You’re probably starting to get the drift: The foundation for Sax’s theory is light on evidence, heavy on old fuddy-duddy.

Take Sax’s “#1 recommendation” for parents: “Command. Don’t ask. Don’t negotiate. … When you lay down a rule, and your children ask why, answer, ‘Because Mommy (or Daddy) says so, that’s why.’ ” In fact, this kind of parenting is authoritarian, not authoritative. The scientist-authored book Authoritative Parenting, which Sax references in his book, points out that authoritative parents should be willing to negotiate and change their demands when their children reasonably object and that it is authoritarian parents who, “if challenged, threaten punishment and give ‘because I say so’ as a reason for compliance.” As Baumrind herself explained, authoritarian parents “do not encourage verbal give and take, believing that the child should accept her word for what is right.” That sounds a lot like Sax’s recommended parenting style. And research has found plenty of problems associated with authoritarian parenting. A study published this month found that kids of authoritarian parents were more likely to be bullied and depressed; they also have been shown to have less self-control, more alcohol-related problems, and more eating disorders. Finally, they eat fewer fruits and vegetables and are more likely to be obese.


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