At the end of a recent parenting seminar, a father approached me with a question. This man was about 6'2" and 220 lbs. and had the body type of a football player.
"Dr. Osit," he began, "my 15-year-old son is abusing his cell phone privileges. What should I do?"
"Well, that's an easy one," I quipped. "Take it away for three days, then give it back to him and let him know that he will lose it for another three days if he crosses the line again."
The big burly man flinched a bit and said, "I couldn't do that."
"Why not," I asked?
"He'll get angry."
This father with the stature of a football player was intimidated by his son's anger.
A week later at another presentation, a mother asked me how to get her 16-year-old son to accompany the family for a visit to grandma. What ever happened to telling your kids that they need to do something and they just do it? Today's parents have a gnawing feeling that they are losing control of their kids. There is an erosion of respect for authority that has gradually occurred and is almost out of control in the present youth culture. It is common for this generation to yell at parents, use inappropriate language, call them names and even hit parents. Kids storm out of rooms and out of the house when they can't get what they want. They argue, negotiate and intimidate parents. If you think I am exaggerating or saying to yourself, "not my kid," then you need to look closer. You need to step outside of your family and take a long, hard, objective look as to how you are raising your children. Closely examine their tone of voice and degree of cooperation when asked to do something. The empowerment kids have today is subtle, yet pervasive. It is the new norm in parent-child relationships.
What I see in my clinical work, as well as walking around town, is that kids have an inordinate amount of power and control in their families. I see moms in supermarkets saying "no" to their kids, and then eventually giving in to the repetitive requests, negotiations and temper outbursts. I see kids with tunnel vision, not being able to accept "no" and harassing their parents until it turns into a "yes." Many parents seem unwilling to be the authority, take control and be firm with their kids. It's as if parents are afraid of "damaging" their kids or their relationship with them if they say, "no." Consequently, kids feel empowered which perpetuates their difficulty accepting "no."
We have become a child-centered culture, which has created a sense of entitlement and has negatively affected the work ethic of our youth. There is an inordinate amount of time, money, attention, emotions, activities and possessions that our kids receive. Of course, kids should feel loved, important, nurtured and special. And, of course, kids should receive all of these things from their parents. I just think we have gone overboard and the excess is harmful for their adjustment as well as the functioning of the family as a whole. It is time to create more of a balance and for parents to regain control. They can no longer base their parenting decisions on "everyone else has it or is doing it." When I work with parents on regaining control, I see their children becoming generally happier, less uptight, less anxious and more relaxed. Parents need to park their competitive spirit that creates fear and anxiety if their child is not keeping up with peers. Parents need to remain firm and unyielding when their children challenge or try to intimidate with a meltdown or rage episode. This may very well be a giant step on the path to raising happy, well adjusted children.