Monday, August 21, 2000

Now cut that out!

Are "today's parents" trying too hard or not hard enough? That's the question that keeps parenting books filling up, and flying off of, bookstore shelves. From the virtual shelves of, here are two new tomes that exhort us to do more, do less, do different. I haven't read them--heck, I'm still just halfway through Stanley Greenspan's The Challenging Child, which I bought months ago, and I have a stack of such scintillating titles as Assessment of Communication and Language, Teaching Children With Autism, and Reaching Out to Children With FAS/FAE waiting for me when I'm done. No mere garden-variety parenting problems for me! But if you're not rushing out to buy these titles, then you must be a bad parent. Or so their publishers would have you believe...

Taking the "try harder!" tack is How to Behave So Your Children Will, Too! by the aptly named Sal Severe. Does your child throw wild, humiliating tantrums in public places? Maybe it's not his behavior you should be worrying about. Severe's take is that it's your behavior that causes junior to act up--your inconsistency, your ineffective disciplinary techniques, your willingness to give in to get a little peace. As Amazon's review explains: "Solidly putting the responsibility for a child's behavior on the parents, "How to Behave" addresses a wide range of issues, such as how children learn to push their parents' buttons, why children misbehave, and how to motivate kids to behave using simple rules and consequences. Push aside all the nitty-gritty advice, however, and several themes emerge. Over and over, Severe emphasizes that raising a child requires total parental consistency, that it takes awhile to get results from new parenting techniques, and that overall, parenting is a very tough job." Well, thanks. It's nice of someone to say so. Especially someone bent on making it tougher still.

But does it really have to be so tough? From the "don't try so hard!" school of thought comes Hyper-Parenting: Are You Hurting Your Child by Trying Too Hard? by Alvin A. Rosenfeld and Nicole Wise. What the two are specifically targeting is the overabundance of activities parents run their kids (and themselves) through in an effort to provide a rich, varied, and full childhood experience. Bad parents! Says Amazon: "If you've just sat down after a day that included taking your very intelligent child to a Kumon math tutoring session, shuttling another to soccer practice and piano lessons, supervising the homework of both to make sure it's perfect, and making a midnight trip to the grocery store to pick up the organic grapes for tomorrow's nutritionally balanced lunches, then "Hyper-Parenting" is for you.... This parenting style can be loosely defined as one that attempts to control everything in a child's environment with the aim of achieving a perfect outcome. It's not realistic or healthy, say the authors. Chapter by chapter, examining everything from parents' reliance on "expert" opinions to the huge impact of media messages on parent behavior, Rosenfeld and Wise make a compelling argument for their premise. They encourage parents to turn the lens inward and ask themselves what messages they are sending--not with their words, but with their behavior." Personally, I think that teaching children how to juggle a full schedule of activities is probably about as valuable a skill as anything, and teaching them that the best way to handle their lives is by reading a book (particularly one that then tells you not to listen to experts) is somewhat less productive. But then again, I've carefully perfected a hypo-parenting style by which I park the kids in front of the TV for endless hours of Nickelodeon so that I have plenty of time to sleep, answer e-mail, and read parenting books.

Hey, it works for me.

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