I picked up this book because a friend had mentioned it and because Leonard Sax is a well-known author of parenting books, and well, I'm kind of a parenting book junkie.
In this book that just came out this year, Sax, a family doctor, psychologist and father, tackles pretty much everything all at once. It was like a giant manifesto of his parenting philosophy and it felt like he was verbally vomiting all the things he wanted to tell the parents he saw during his decades of medical practice.
And I quite enjoyed it.
The first half of the book is dedicated to the most common "problems" he sees with kids today. The first is what he calls the "culture of disrespect". He kind of sounds like an old grandpa that starts every sentence with "In my day...[insert example of how kids never disrespected their elders or complained about working hard, etc.]"
His general point was that kids now care more about what their peers think than what their parents think. This he attributes to the dislocation of a child's primary attachment from parent to peers. He has observed this happening as early as 8 or 9 years old. "For the first time in history," Sax quotes another author saying, "young people are turning for instruction, modeling and guidance not to mothers, fathers, teachers, and other responsible adults but to people whom nature never intended to place in a parenting role--their own peers."
And how does this happen? Sax believes it's because many parents abdicate their roles as authorities over their children. Instead of taking their rightful role as limit-setter, giver of firm commands, and makers of the law, parents are misguided into thinking it's best to give their kids "independence" and let them choose their own values with which to guide themselves. Alternatively it may happen if the parent is simply afraid to anger the child and lose the child's affections.
The next "problem" he notes is kids being overweight. Again, the grandpa voice - in 1970 only 4 percent of American children 5 to 11 were obese. In 2008 almost 20 percent were obese.
The reasons for this are pretty cut and dry to Sax:
(1) kids eat too much junk,
(2) kids don't do enough physical activity (because screen time), and
(3) kids don't sleep enough
And underlying all of this is again, parent abdicating authority and not setting proper limits for their kids.
The next "problem" Sad addresses is why so many kids are on medication. Kids are being treated for bipolar disorder and ADHD at record rates and Sax has some compelling data to show that it is indeed an over-diagnosis that had its origins in faulty research data propagated by scientists that were financially incentivized by pharmaceutical companies.
Sax believes the real problem is excessive video-game playing, severe sleep deprivation, and again, permissive parenting that fails to set firm limits for behavior.
The last "problem" Sax addresses is why kids are so fragile. They seem to crumple at the mere touch of criticism. One failed quiz and some kids seem to despair of life itself. Sax attributes this to kids valuing the opinions of peers or their own self-constructed self-concept more than they care about the good regard of their parents and other adults. This creates a "cult of success" because success is the easiest way to impress your peers and yourself.
The solution? Kids need to feel secure in the unconditional acceptance of their parents, and obviously they need to respect their parent's opinions in the first place. Not the most satisfying answer to me, but at least it gives you somewhere to begin.
In the second half of the book Sax rolls out his 3-part solution to all of the problems facing kids today. And it's totally not what you'd expect.
Unlike the vast majority of parenting advice out there, Sax's solutions are a sucker-punch to the Kantian/Enlightenment categories we've all come to unconsciously accept in polite secular society. Instead of sticking with "scientific facts" in the acceptable public sphere of discourse, Sax reaches right into the private sphere of socially constructed "values". Sacred bleu!
Sax recommends that parents:
(1) Teach humility,
(2) Enjoy their kids, and
(3) Teach them the meaning of life
Most unscientific advice ever...but it has the ring of moral intuitive truth to it...but maybe that's just because it's borrowing constructs from a post-Judeo-Christian society...
Either way, this is how Sax proposes a parent does each of the 3 prescriptions:
(1) How to teach humility - give your kids menial chores to do. Strongly limit their time on social media to keep them out of a culture of self-absorption. And spend lots of time in nature so the vastness of creation can give your kid perspective of his relative smallness.
(2) How to enjoy your kids - Don't overschedule your kids in activities. Spend time doing fun stuff with them.
(3) How to teach kids the meaning of life - First, some parenting tenets to AVOID...
Do NOT have the mentality of the common American Dream - the point of life is to (1) work hard in school to get into a top college; (2) go to a top college to get a lucrative job; and (3) get a lucrative job to make a good living and thereby be happy.
Sax notes that all 3 of those assumptions are FALSE. Just because you work hard, doesn't mean you'll get into a good college. And just because you go to a good college doesn't mean you'll end up making high six figures. And just because you make high six figures doesn't mean you'll be happy and fulfilled at all.
Here's another common American tenet to avoid - making personal success the highest goal for your child. Life should not be about what you DO (accomplishments), but who you ARE (character).
So what is the point of everything? Why work hard in school? Why get good grades?
Sax offers these 3 reasons:
1. meaningful work
2. a person to love, and
3. a cause to embrace
Is that the secret sauce to human flourishing?
If so, our culture is really failing our kids.