The Jan/Feb 2012 issue of Psychotherapy Networker has as its cover story, “Are parents obsolete? Confronting the dilemmas of 21st century childrearing.”, Famed psychologist Ron Taffel tells us that due to factors beyond our control, parents’ have failed at their attempts to succeed in their role as the authority.

Essentially, the point is this. When I was in training and kids/teens/adults presented for treatment the first thing we were told to examine was what was wrong with the family. If we looked within the dynamics and workings of the dysfunctional family system we could make sense out of the symptoms and fix the problem. Today, however, things are different- there are other forces so paramount that we need to look in other places. We need to look at society as a whole. We need to look at other challenges- “social and cultural circumstances that undermine the foundations of parents’ self-confidence and integrity, even of family life itself”. Today, we can’t just look within the workings of the family.

Here is a little sample. About 10 years ago when my kids were watching Sponge Bob, a cartoon written primarily for adults but marketed to kids, they saw “you stupid idiot”. I cringed. That was a far cry from The Munsters and I love Lucy. I lost and, despite my authority, Sponge Bob took over. At 11 my younger son asked me, with permission from every other child’s parents, to escort them to an R-rated movie for his birthday. Did I lose to my kid or these other adults? This is the same child who said to me, not long ago, that “when we use curse words it’s not that we are trying to be disrespectful . . that is our world.” No doubt the bar has been lowered.

Parent’s are not obsolete but our power has been diminished. Not just by cultural forces but I believe that families have become child centered. Since the “toxic parents” revolution of the 90’s we have not just compensated for the “children should be seen and not heard” phenomenon but have geared our lives and our waking moments to what we think is best for our children. With businesses taking the forefront, we have succumbed to their marketing strategies and indulged our children with what we think won’t make us toxic. It has all been about them.

And what has this created? Kids who are pressured to not just live and follow their passion (but they better have one!) but to be the best and be it early because there is no time to lollygag. Liberal arts education is not an option. By college one has to know what they have to be. And getting there has changed . . .“cheating is no longer considered a moral issue, but rather a necessity.”

It is a good read and if you can get a copy I highly recommend it. So what do they say is the solution to stay connected to kids who think they rule the world? A type of parent support group. Maintaining strong connection with a group of parents and, at times, letting the children/teens in to present their arguments beliefs or whatever, is the recommendation. I guess it’s easier to listen to kids today if we have a bigger team. Hardly enough but a good start.

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