Problem with the 'parenting culture'

Why, exactly, do we need to keep reinventing the parenting wheel? Or so I wondered as I read the headline on the story posted on "Teaching Self-Control Skills to Children Reduces Classroom Problems." I was waiting for the punch ...

Why, exactly, do we need to keep reinventing the parenting wheel?

Or so I wondered as I read the headline on the story posted on "Teaching Self-Control Skills to Children Reduces Classroom Problems."

I was waiting for the punch line. Instead, the article opens: "Children taught skills to monitor and control their anger and other emotions improved their classroom behavior and had significantly fewer school disciplinary referrals and suspensions, according to a study by University of Rochester Medical Center researchers."

The story continues: "Children in a school-based mentoring program were about half as likely to have any discipline incident over the three-month period of the study, according to an article published online by the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. They also had a 43 percent decrease in mean suspensions as compared to the control group, which did not receive mentoring of the self-control skills."

The "duh" factor simply amazes.


The posting goes on to read: " 'It is exciting that adult mentors, who are not mental-health professionals, taught children a set of skills that significantly strengthened the children's ability to function well in their classrooms and meet school expectations,' said Peter Wyman, Ph.D., lead author of the article ..."

"Exciting?" Scoring a backstage pass to a Jonas Brothers concert for one's 13-year-old daughter is exciting. Well, for the daughter, at least.

But this finding is not news to any reasonable parent.

Yes, barring some mental disability, children who are taught self-control will exhibit more of it in various surroundings. This particular study dealt with low-income kids, presumably many from broken homes. But it didn't reveal anything new. It only revealed the wisdom of the ages.

So, I'm not sure if the problem here is parents who aren't doing their job in the first place, or "experts" who think they've discovered the equivalent of electricity by finding that children do better when taught self-control by mentors.

Who used to be called "parents," by the way.

In a kind of reverse scenario across the pond, Britain's Daily Mail recently reported that there is a "classroom discipline crisis caused by 'middle-class parents buying off their children'" with computers, televisions and other goodies. "A generation of well-off pupils is failing to accept the authority of teachers because they are used to being indulged at home," said a teachers-union leader there.

Now, look. If I actually thought that "buying off" my kids worked in any decent sense of the word, I might give it a more vigorous try. Right now my daughter Maddie, 11, is angling for two mice to add to our menagerie of one dog, two cats -- and four kids. My general motto is that no new living thing may join this household unless it's a husband. But I admit I'm dragging out my answer to her on this one because I want to see what behavior changes the mere hope of the mice might bring.


Of course, the long-term "buying off" of a child is not going to produce a positive change in character. My guess is, parents who do such things, on both sides of the ocean, know exactly that. It's just that it's tempting to go with what's easier in the moment.

"Duh" again.

In any case, one might ask here, too: "What about the parents?"

Or maybe there's a better question: "Where is the age-old wisdom that a child needs parents who will love him like there's no tomorrow, and because of that will train him like they care more about whether he likes them when he is 30 than when he is 13?"

I still see a lot of great parents pushing back against what I call the "parenting culture." But more and more, I watch as the experts "discover" how to train up children, and in the process marginalize what was once the accepted role and wisdom of parents. Sadly, I watch as ever more parents let it happen by turning their job over to the experts.

But there just isn't a substitute for a mom and a dad who really dare to parent. And there's little doubt that children would be better off if we all saw that kind of "duh" statement in a few more headlines.

-- Hart is the author of "It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting our Kids -- and What to do About it." E-mail her at .

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