Anesthetized Parenting: Today’s Version of “Children Should Be Seen and Not Heard?”

On Friday’s PI Window on Business, guest host Jim Bouchard will be talking with insightful and controversial “Your Kids Are Your Own Fault” author Larry Winget.  While I have no doubt that the discussion will be one of the more memorable one’s in the show’s young history, the research into the subject matter has proven to be equally thought-provoking on many levels.

With his book, Winget seems to have been able to effectively navigate the sensitive waters of parenting without being hung in effigy for treading on the sacred cows of a family’s business being its own business.   Perhaps proof of a tacit recognition on the part of today’s parents that Tolstoy’s “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” is an acceptable standard, one in which outside “interference” is usually viewed as being an unwelcome intrusion.

Yet despite this seemingly impenetrable wall of unassailable right, as Tema Gouse observed in her November 13th, 2009 article “Family dysfunctions evoke Tolstoy’s famous quote,” our interest in the dysfunctional elements of family life has created a sizable market for what Gouse referred to as “a morbid theme.”

Certainly there are many dynamics associated with fueling the “family in crisis” scenario, where children seem to be out of control, and parents are at their wits end in terms of dealing with both their own adult conflicts as well as those of their offspring.  For instance, family structures have dramatically changed as a result of increasing divorce rates, the introduction of both stepparents and grandparents into the family hierarchy as well as the economic realities of both parents having to work.

While Gouse, recalling the teachings of her mentors who proclaimed that it is the very “closeness and need that fosters the conflicts” within the family unit, the changing dynamics referenced above most certainly complicate and perhaps even magnify said dissensions.

However, and this is the basis for Winget’s book, ultimate responsibility for addressing these as well as other challenges within the 21st Century family are and will forever remain with the parents!

This of course is where a disturbing trend begins to surface.  A trend which would seem to indicate that there is a prevalence of the “I’m doing the best that I can” mantra as a means of justifying a lack of parental involvement and even responsibility.

To begin, Winget indicates that parents on average only spend 3 1/2 minutes per week in meaningful conversation with their children.  Think about that for a moment,  3 1/2 minutes!  What can you possibly teach your children and more importantly, what can your children learn about you in 3 1/2 minutes?

Perhaps this is the isolating starting point that leads to 27 out of 29 children being obese, or why only 70% of all kids graduate from high school in an era where those with university degrees are finding it tough to land a job.

This isn’t meant to be a judgment (although some are probably starting the effigy fires at this point), so much as it is a misaligned priorities alarm.  Certainly the demands associated with earning a living cannot be overlooked – especially in single parent homes.  But 3 1/2 minutes?

It is probably a safe bet that the majority of parents spend more time on a lunch or coffee break during the work day.  I would even be willing to hazard a guess that the time spent watching television in the evening, or talking on the phone in a single day would add up to a greater total than the paltry 3 1/2 minutes referenced by Winget.

The real question however is what do we as parents do when presented with data that clearly manifests itself in the negative reactions/actions of our children?

At this point, I think it is important to clarify that all children since the beginning of time have had their “moments.”  The Socrates lament about the problems with the “younger generation” gives testimony to this truth.  Everything from tantrums to fibs are a passage rite of childhood.

Now some experts and parents might be inclined to suggest that the degree or range of misbehavior on the part of the child should be the focus.  Ironically, whether refusing to eat broccoli at the dinner table or stealing the lunch money at school (or worse), the definition of what is normal versus abnormal or problematic behavior on the part of a child is largely irrelevant.  In fact, by focusing the attention on the child’s conduct, perhaps we as parents might be practicing a form of deflection from our own responsibility in the situation.

I can remember reading about the best way to handle a simple temper tantrum.  Instead of threatening or yelling, it was suggested that the parent remain calm during such an outbreak.  Besides being a “normal” reaction on the part of the child to a situation in which they cannot fully express themselves, how we react to the outburst has a direct impact on the length of the tantrum as well as the frequency by which they will occur in the future.  Specifically, by maintaining a calm, even-keeled temperament (something that is not always easy to do after a long work day – especially while standing in the check-out line at the local supermarket), we are actually teaching our children how to respond to difficult situations.  In short, our children both copy and reflect our behavior by what they observe more than by what we say.

This leads to the obvious question . . . how do we react (and interact) with our children?

Do we has parents somehow make up for our lack of meaningful interaction by giving our kids enough of the latest toys or computer games that one might think we are running a large daycare out of our homes?  Do we set such a frenetic pace of outside the home activities that we somehow equate chauffeuring with parenting?

In the extreme cases I am still stunned by a recent story that I have been covering in which children between the ages of 3 and 16 are being prescribed powerful anti psychotic drugs as a means of treating their behavior.  Drugs I might add that have damaging, long-term side effects.  As a means of providing a point of reference relative to the frequency with which these drugs are being used, anti psychotic prescriptions represent the “single biggest drug expenditure for Medicaid, costing the program $7.9 billion in 2006.

Regardless whether through the over indulgence of toys or the shocking use of drugs, are we as parents anesthetizing both ourselves and our children in terms of building the necessary relationship to ensure that our kids grow up to be happy, productive adults?

Going back to the opening paragraphs of today’s post, Winget’s Your Children are Your Own Fault book will likely give many parents pause for thought – how is that effigy fire going?  However, and referencing the questions that Jim will be asking including those regarding the author’s five points of parenting, it will be a segment that will not soon be forgotten.

Use the following link to access the Show Page for “Your Kids Are Your Own Fault” which airs Friday, January 15th at 12:30 PM EST.

5 Responses to “Anesthetized Parenting: Today’s Version of “Children Should Be Seen and Not Heard?””
  1. Jim Bouchard says:

    This will be a provocative show!

    I’ve been working with children and parents for over 20 years as a professional martial arts instructor. I have seen the very best, and worst in contemporary parenting.

    To many our conversation will be singing WITH the choir. Validation is sometimes as valuable as education; your thoughts and comments will be welcomed. For others, we’ll no doubt hit some sensitive nerves.

    I’ll pull no punches: We’ve got serious problems in our society and one of the greatest reasons is a decay in personal responsibility and accountablility. It’s a simple fix; but not easy. We’ve got to stop this cycle of entitlement and return to a mindset of instilling core values that serve through youth and throughout life.

    Join us for what will be an instigational and inspirational discussion!

    Jim Bouchard

    Author of Think Like a Black Belt

  2. John Moore says:

    I fear that the parents that need such a book the most will not be the ones reading it. Let’s face it, if someone is only spending 3 1/2 minutes talking to their kid, are they really going to sit down with a book that tells them they suck as a parent? Doubtful.

    As a parent of twin three year olds I have begun the practice in engaging my children in conversation about almost anything, from stories, to explanations of why things are, to ethical explanations (don’t do that because you wouldn’t like it done to you). As a result, our children are incredibly well socialized, well behaved, and had a 4year-old vocabulary at 2. Are they perfect kids? There’s no such thing.

    Engaging kids in conversation is so useful and helpful, and I see so little of it from other parents.

  3. Children should very much be heard. They grow up to be adults.

  4. Jana DeWitt says:

    Where does the 3 1/2 minutes per week figure come from? What age group is the author talking about? This sounds like a lot of made up crap from someone who doesn’t have kids. Yes, SOME children are prescribed powerful drugs these days, you make it sounds like most are. We have progressed in our health care system and before some of these drugs were around these kids may have been institutionalized and never heard of at all.

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