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Article of Interest - Parenting

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Bridges4Kids LogoLax Discipline Makes For Spoiled Kids?
by Michelle Quinn, Detroit Free Press, February 6, 2004
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You've seen them. Terrorist toddlers screaming at the supermarket. Kamikaze kindergartners with anger issues on the playground. Surly adolescents with no respect for anyone over 18.

And you've wondered: Have kids always been this way and I'm just getting crankier? Or are today's parents spineless saps producing an inordinate number of brats?

Talk to parenting experts, school principals and teachers and you'll get an earful. Most think children behave more poorly than they did in the past -- some even call it a crisis in discipline -- but they disagree about why. Theories range from the absenteeism of working parents, to the loosening of morals, to the violence and flippancy seen on TV shows.

However, there's one area of agreement: Many parents abandoned the top-down, authoritarian style of past eras, but they haven't found a sure-footed way to discipline their children that always seems right.
"I'm not sure about everything," says Kandi Praska, a Santa Clara, Calif., single mother of three. "I'm looking at them as children under my care and supervision who need to be disciplined, but I don't want to go too far in the discipline so that I encroach on who they are as people."

Child-rearing experts add to parents' insecurity. No two agree on how to raise children. And new parenting theories pop up every year.

Spanking is bad. Spanking is good. Teach your child the word "no" early and use it often. Saying "no" will stifle your child's creativity. Even yelling is over-analyzed. According to one researcher recently, yelling is "psychological aggression."

"There's too much information out there," says Karen Friedland-Brown, parent education coordinator at Parent's Place on the Peninsula, a center that offers parenting classes. "And maybe kids are pushing more and pushing harder because there aren't models of extreme authority. That's good, but it makes parenting harder."

Parenting angst leaves schools having to play a greater role in disciplining children, says James McDonald, principal of Britton Middle School in Morgan Hill, Calif. "Some parents are very confused about what they can and can't do in terms of discipline. We're finding ourselves, as a school, taking on the roles of parents."
So what is at the root of parental ambivalence about disciplining? Dr. Robert Shaw, a Berkeley child psychiatrist and author of a new parenting book, thinks American parents left the shores of sanity in the 1960s. That's when the "epidemic," as he calls it, began. "There's a lot of intellectual conviction that you shouldn't over-regulate your kids," Shaw says.

"The most pernicious part is that parents aren't doing what they feel is right," he says. "They are always thinking what ought I do? They are looking for the politically correct way of being. They are alienated from their inner guidance system."

Shaw says parents don't discipline their children early and often enough. Permissiveness is flourishing like a virus everywhere, he says, particularly in California's Bay Area. That region prizes creativity and individuality at the expense of respect, politeness and other values that used to be more in vogue. Here, more than elsewhere, parents worry inordinately about stifling their children and how best to encourage independence and resourcefulness. The results are creative mini-thugs, Shaw says, with no respect for adults and little self-control.

Of course, other child-rearing experts disagree. Martha Heineman Pieper, another author of a parenting book, thinks people discipline their children too much and too harshly. "They are trying to socialize children way too young," she says. "It's based on the idea that children should act like mini-adults."

Some say today's parents pick extreme parenting styles, from permissiveness to rigidity -- often in response to the upbringing they had. Others whipsaw between poles, perhaps depending on what parenting advice book or article they read that day. Many just go with their instincts, eschew consistency and yet wonder if they should have some overarching philosophy to follow.

And maybe a middle-of-the-road approach has some benefits. "Parents are too permissive in the name of love and too controlling in the name of love," says Jane Nelsen, author of "Positive Discipline."

"The key is to be kind and firm at the same time," she says.

But that reasonable advice doesn't always jump to mind in the trenches. Praska, a library assistant, doesn't have someone at home she can talk to about discipline.

When one daughter whined and talked back recently, Praska sent her to her room. But then came the worries. Maybe she made a mistake. Maybe her daughter was trying to communicate something was wrong. "I don't want to hurt her," Praska says.

Second-guessing is, of course, just another job hazard of parenting these days. Self-doubt often hits outside of the home, where parenting can turn into a spectator sport -- the public watching the live event of a child's meltdown and how it's handled.

Not surprisingly, parents often are on the defensive, especially in public settings. "When I started as a principal, I would call a parent and they would thank me and be right here to help with the discipline," McDonald says. "Now there's a growing number who say, 'It's got to be the teacher's fault.' Or. 'It's not true.' "

Rennu Dhillon faces parental denial at the Fremont, Calif., preschool she runs, Genius Kids.

When one 3 1/2-year-old boy refused to color and pushed another child, he lost his lollipop -- Dhillon's reward for good behavior. But the mother bought him a lollipop rather than put up with a tantrum, Dhillon said.

It took three weeks of no lollipops and timeouts (and the child kicking and throwing crayons at Dhillon) before the child began to comply with the school's rules.

"Kids don't fear anything," says Dhillon, who has two teenage daughters. "They don't fear parents. They don't fear teachers. If you talk to parents, they at first don't want to accept that their child isn't perfect."

In the San Jose, Calif., home of the Castle Pietrzaks, two parenting philosophies are at work and sometimes at odds. There is common ground: Both parents are opposed to spanking, prefer the term "consequences" to "punishments," and want their children to feel they can speak up.

But there are differences. "She believes that fear has no place in a relationship between a child and a parent," says Michael Castle Pietrzak, the father and a painting contractor. "I believe in healthy fear."

Stacy Castle Pietrzak, the mother and director of parent education at the YWCA of Santa Clara Valley, puts their differences this way: She believes children should be controlled and restricted most at the youngest age and given bits of freedom as they get older. Her husband thinks the opposite -- young children should be indulged until they show signs of understanding. Older children need to be reined in and given clear rules with consequences.

These two parenting beliefs sometimes collide among the couple's three older children, ages 10, 12 and 14, from Stacy's first marriage and their 16-month-old daughter. The older kids, Michael thinks, need more guidance. And "with the youngest, what my husband thinks is cute, I don't think is cute," Stacy says.

The couple says they talk constantly about every situation, perhaps too much for Michael. But they feel they have to discuss it all because they are inventing parenting as they go.

"Most people think, 'I was parented, I'm OK. I'll do what comes naturally to me,' " Stacy says. "You can't. It's such a huge responsibility that we take so lightly."


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