In The Collapse of Parenting Sax outlines, as his subtitle suggests, ‘How we hurt our kids when we treat them like grown-ups.’ 1 Despite insisting that there are specific challenges facing parents in the USA that are not faced – at least, not to the same extent – as parents elsewhere, I have certainly seen an increase of these in the UK in both my personal life and my role as a teacher: in particular, the growing lack of respect of children towards adults; the increase in parents to protect children from difficulty or challenge (what Dr Sax calls ‘soft parenting’); and the over-scheduling of children’s time which detracts from quality parent-child interactions
What I particularly enjoyed about reading this book is that Dr Sax uses longitudinal research studies; evidence from his wide and varied interactions with schools, teachers, parents and students; and his weight of experience as a family physician and psychologist to directly challenge many of the insidious elements of parenting that are pervading society, and which have serious and long-term negative repercussions: obesity, elevated self-importance, reduced resilience, and increased focus on external achievements and recognition rather than internal growth.
Dr Sax’s book is helpfully structured: Part 1 outlines the problems facing children, parents and society today (obesity, over-medication, anxiety etc.) providing valuable background context to these issues; Part 2 addresses solutions to these problems in a practical manner. Yet this book is not solely useful for parents but for anyone who has regular interactions with children. It is clear that the effects of changes to upbringing and parenting affect society more broadly; as such, we all have a responsibility to tackle these issues and instil a more appropriate world view and self perception in young people.
One need only look at recent media articles (not to mention writings surrounding the General Election) to realise how aware of many of these issues society is. More needs to be done to tackle the increase in anxiety in young people. Greater efforts must be made to tackle obesity. The education system needs redressing to avoid an unhealthy focus on outcomes and examination results. More emphasis must be placed on thoughtful and reasoned engagement with one another’s ideas and arguments to counteract the rise in identity politics and social division.
Yet these are not issues that can be left until adolescence or adulthood to address. The degradation of political discourse – especially in the House of Commons – shows that it is already too late by this point. Instead, Sax eloquently traces the antecedents of these to earlier lessons that need to be embedded in childhood: redressing the peer-centric nature of childhood; reducing the value ascribed to social media; promoting the wider and more significant value of education beyond job acquisition; and making time to model serious conversations and interactions.
‘The Collapse of Parenting’ is therefore not a doomsday prophecy decrying the loss of parenting skills but a useful guide of how to address the growing issues facing parents and society today. It is an excellent study of parent/child relationships, and it is a text I would encourage all to read.
1. Sax, Leonard The Collapse of Parenting (Basic Books; New York, 2016)