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How To Be The Parent Your Kids Need, Not The Parent They Like

Crib Notes summarize all the parenting books you’d read if you weren’t too busy parenting. For great advice in chunks so small a toddler wouldn’t even choke on them, go here.

If you’ve read a lot of these Crib Notes, you get the gist that most expert parenting advice has the same tenets: Show up for your kid. Guide their immature actions, but not too much. Set limits. Feed them veggies. Wash behind their ears. Dr. Leonard Sax,  family physician, Ph.D. in psychology and author of The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-Ups, says all this too — but he’s kind of a dick about it.

To be fair, he’s seen his share of pretty terrible parents. Like the ones who just let their child get mouth rashes because all the kid would eat was “McDonald’s french fries, pizza, chicken nuggets, and potato chips.” Or, the geniuses who let their 8-year-old pick the expensive private school despite them thinking it was the wrong choice — and, no, the school wasn’t Hogwarts.


Dr. Sax believes that parenting has gone too far to the empathetic left, and everyone needs to take a step back toward the “authoritarian” right. You can decide whether he’s right about parents being too soft, or if he’s being unjustly hard. Either way, there’s some solid, rational nuggets just underneath some of the harder edge ideas. After all, you don’t want your kids getting their life lessons from Disney XD.

The Culture of Disrespect
Dr. Sax notes humans have a long period of childhood and adolescence relative to other animals, which explains Shia LaBeouf. Researchers argue that the reason for this prolonged immaturity is to be enculturated into societal norms — but not like growing a rat tail or watching all your films in reverse chronology for an “art project.” No, these are norms like resilience, self-control, empathy and the meaning of a good life.

Sax believes American parents suffer from “role confusion.” They have been seduced by pop culture as much as their kids and have bought into the belief that if it makes their kids happy, they’re doing a bang-up job.


Respect My Authori-tay!
According to Sax, children aren’t learning about values from adults; they’re taking most of it in from their peers and passing it on to younger kids. At this rate, soon everyone will just be riding hoverboards in circles while eating Burger King’s Mac & Cheetos.

He believes parents must understand that children aren’t psychologically equipped or mature enough to enculturate other kids. You can tell because they can barely catch a Pokemon on their phone without falling down a manhole or getting mugged. It’s your job to be that voice of stern reason.

What You Can Do With This:

  • Teaching your child to behave inside and outside the house means setting reasonable boundaries and sticking with them — regardless of how much your kid will claim to hate you forever. The good news is the probably won’t. Or at least it won’t last much past their 20s.
  • Don’t parent to be loved, parent because you’re a parent. “If your relationship with your child is governed by your own desire to be loved by him or her, the odds are good that you will not achieve even that objective.”
  • The world won’t teach them to be a good person. Dr. Sax explains that public education is obsessed with a strict “rigor” that cuts out important lessons like “Don’t be a douche” or “Mean girls aren’t cool,” (that’s a paraphrase). Better get those lessons at home.



Start A Family Band
Love will keep you together. Just kidding. Being genetically-linked is really what keeps your kids close to you for the first decade or so. Sax encourages more time with the kids early on so that when they do get to those adolescent years, they’ll still be an active participant in your household — instead of joining ISIS.

What You Can Do With This:

  • Togetherness doesn’t mean sitting in the living room, holding hands and singing Kumbaya. It means putting family dinners, chores, and outings above sports practice and clubs.
  • No devices on the family car trip. That may seem extreme in this age, but the point of going on a vacation is to do fun things with each other. That’s how they start to value your opinion over their friends. Now go spy something that begins with the letter “X.”
  • But, Pokemon Go! Dr. Sax insists that whatever time you all spend without your iPhones is quality interacting and talking. Go look at the night sky. Get out into the woods. Pretending you and your kid are going to die of starvation (that one isn’t a paraphrase, by the way). You don’t teach independence by letting your kid off the leash; You teach them independence by asking them questions where they have to form opinions, thoughts and answers.

Get With The Program
Sax insists that part of getting kids to acknowledge you’re the adult and they’re the kid is to make sure you’re the one that sets the routine. If your 3-year-old is holding bedtime hostage with a list of demands (3 books, 2 stories, and a fueled plane ready to take them to Switzerland) you need to set some new expectations. This isn’t just at the dinner table or in the bedroom, but any time the fam is together.

What You Can Do With This:

  • There’s one strict rule Dr. Sax say you need to adhere to: No screens in the bedroom. Ever. Preschoolers and kindergartners need 11 hours of sleep a night. Elementary kids need at least 10 and teens need 9. You? You take what you can get.
  • You decide what’s for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Your kids eat it. If they don’t like what’s on the table, you can offer an alternative, but you’re not running a restaurant. Now, who ordered the lumberjack, sunny-side up?

Don’t Expect To Be Popular
Dr. Sax bluntly explains that if you become an authoritarian parent, you won’t be popular. Not with your kids. Not with the fellow parents who think you are a weirdo. Not with their hippy teachers. But, the job of a parent is to give kids the skills to be “good, happy, fulfilled adults,” he says. Don’t worry, they’ll thank you when they’re older. Much older.