The Collapse of Parenting-Some of My Highlights

I loved the book The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-Ups by Leonard Sax.  I found it so interesting and I have so many pages turned down and ideas and thoughts that I wanted to remember.

Here are some of them (quickly and REALLY REALLY random as I am fitting this in inbetween about 100 other things I need to be doing.)  This book is chock full of gems and to pull what I did out of it doesn't do it justice.

This is his diagnosis for the rise in childhood issues he has seen from 25 years ago (obesity, childhood psychiatric diagnosis, disrespect for parents and teachers, lack of motivation, etc.):
"Over the past three decades there has been a massive transfer of authority from parents to kids. Along with that transfer of authority has come a change in the valuations of kids' opinions and preferences.  In many families, what kids think and what kids like and what kids want now matters as much or more, than what their parents think and like and want. "Let the kids decide" has become the mantra of good parenting."

On the rise of childhood obesity and the transfer of authority:

"When parents are unequivocally in charge, then  the parents decide what is for supper, and their either eat what is offered or go hungry.  That was the norm in American families as recently as the 1970's, but today is the exception.  In the 1970's, it was common for parents to say, "No dessert until you eat your broccoli," and "No snacking between meals."  Some parents still insist on such rules, but they are now the minority.  Per capita consumption of soda nearly tripled for teenage boys in the US between 1978 and 1994. Between 977 and 1995, the percentage of meals which American sate at fast-food restaurants increased by 200 percent."

He goes on to talk about snacking.  (I had to laugh a little at this because one of my pet peeves is the snacks that are offered after games.  That would have never happened in my day-if we ran around for an hour we waited in line for the drinking fountain with someone rushing us behind, not a Gatorade and a cupcake (or granola bar, or bag of cookies, etc.)

He goes on to say:
"When did a few minutes of hunger become unacceptable? When kids have the final say, then parents must make every effort to ensure that kids are not uncomfortable. Not even for 5 minutes.  Hunger-even just on a the car ride home from school-is now intolerable. "

When parents cede control to their kids:
"No dessert until you eat your broccoli morphs into How about if you eat three bites of broccoli and then you can have dessert?"

On why there are so many kids on medication:

This chapter was so sad to me, I really can't grasp the logic of putting children on medication at young ages when their brains are developing-but I think he hit on the nail on the head, and he is a child psychiatrist who has practiced for many years.  He really has wide knowledge of the problem and points out how much more often American children are medicated vs. any other country and it is scary.

Lack of sleep (and how this has much to do with tech and TV access without parental boundaries), lack of consistent discipline, lack of parent being "in charge", the "medicalization of misbehavior" is what he calls it.  He also touches on how teachers used to say to parents- "Your child is being disruptive and has bad behavior in the classroom" and then the teacher and the parent come insist on that child showing and developing better self-control.  This is now not acceptable for teachers to say to parents as it used to be, and usually the parents are referred to a physician which starts the cycle of medication.

In the end he offers two great recommendations for developing good behavior in children:
"#1 Command. Don't ask. Don't negotiate. Modern American parents are forever rationalizing their decisions to their children. The mere fact that the parent feels compelled to negotiate already undermines the authority of the parent.  When you lay down a rule and, and your children ask why, answer, "Because Mommy or Daddy says so, that's why."

Children need deeply to have parents be IN CHARGE. The world is too big for them without this guidance.

"#2 Eat dinner with your kids."  He lists some amazing studies about just having family meals and this is one of my favorite subjects he writes on. The more meals eaten at home around the dinner table the better-significantly behaved and mentally healthy children are.

Peer-to-peer over the primacy of parent-child relationships-
He quotes from the book "Hold Onto Your Children:Why Parents Need To Matter More Than Peers"-another really powerful book.

"In all your arrangements for your children, try to make connecting with adults a higher priority than connecting with your children's safe-age peers or academics or after-school activities.  Priorities your extended family and your close adult friends in the life of your child. If you have the opportunity to move close to your children's aunts, uncles and grandparents,do it. When you are planning a vacation, look for opportunities for your children to connect with her aunts,uncles and grandparents, You want to give your child a different perspective.  You want to connect her to your cultures. This task is arguably more difficult today than at any other time in American history. Today, the default for most American kids is a primary attachment to safe- age peers."

One of the main reasons why this is more difficult than ever is the constant contact kids have with their peers to day via technology.  Part of our job as parents he argues is to "educate desire"-the desire to do other things besides "whatever floats your boat: if it feels good, do it".  To choose healthier things-"to enjoy and to want to enjoy, pleasures higher and deeper than what video games and social media can provide."

"Fight for time with your child.  Cancel or forgo after school activities, if need be, to have more evening meals together. Your kids can't attach to you if they hardly ever see you.  And turn the devices off."

On changing parenting roles as our children develop:
"When your child is an infant or toddler, you play the role of cheerleader. But as your child gets older, your role must shift. You have to correct.  To redirect. To point out shortcomings. If your teenage son can't think of anything to do for himself other than playing video games, then you need to turn off the devices and get him into the real world.  You need to educate his desire. Your have to teacher you child your values rather than allowing him or her to adopt by default the values promoted by contemporary American culture."

 The second part of the book is titled Solutions and he opens with a chapter of What Matters.

Self-control, measure at age 11, is the best predictor of happiness and overall life satisfaction roughly 20 years later-more than:
Grade point average
Openness to new ideas

He goes on to explain the five dimensions of personality and how conscientiousness (self-control, honesty, perseverance) predicts happiness and wealthy and life satisfaction more than the other four.

"Individuals who are more Conscientious earn and save more money, even after esearches adjust for intelligence, race, ethnicity and educations. Individuals who are more conscientious are also significantly happier than individuals who are less conscientious and they are substantially more satisfied with their lives."  They are healthier, live longer and are less likely to be obese.

He talks about how many parents think grades and test scores are the key to success, but the fact is if you want your child to be healthy, wealthy, happy and wise than be more concerned about teaching them the measures of Conscientious such as honesty, integrity and self-control.

And then he talks about HOW to develop self-control in our children-it is something that IS not something determined at birth, but it something us parents can influence and change by parenting...teaching empathy, the importance of hard work, and how we won't get back up from our "Just Do It" and "Go For It" and "Live For Now" culture today.  He also talks about teaching by example-"To become a better parent, you must become a better person."

"You don't teach virtue by preaching virtue. You teach virtue by requiring virtuous behavior, so that virtuous behavior become a habit."  (He tells a great story of a young athlete who achieved celebrity status at his school but was required by his father to work all summer on a fishing boat cleaning fish guts.)

He talks about the Proverbs verse, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old enough he will not depart from it."-if you compel a child to act virtuously, then when he is adult he will continue to act virtuous.  He mentions this is very optimistic and should be rephrased: "Train up children in the way they should go and when they grow up and move away from you, you will have improved the odds."

He talks about misconceptions we've been taught to believe as parents that are not true.
-Just Right (vs. too soft, and too hard) parents are strict, within reasonable bounds, and also loving. But what parents today think it Just Right is too permissive anymore.

I thought one of the most interesting misconceptions he points is the "rebound" theory of all hell breaking lose when the child reaches middle school, high school or beyond if parents are "too" strict, and how that theory is usually a way of rationalizing away having to be strict and set boundaries.  He points out how research provides no support for this "theory" but actually contradicts it. Virtue begets virtue and vice begets vice and we must demand virtue.

I loved what he says about video games and how they change brains, and the importance of turning off the devices.

"The solution is mindfully to crest an alternative culture. To build a subversive household is which the dinner table conversation is actually conversation, with the screens witched off. To value family time together above time that kids pend with same-age peers. TO create a space for silence, for meditation, for reflection, so that your child can discover a true inner self that is more than the mere gratification of impulse."

1. Teach humility.
Humility has become the most un-American of virtues.  Since I've read this chapter I've become SO aware of the examples set for our children.  From politicians to sports "heroes", ugh.  Really, UGH. After the Cavs won, I had a few glimpses (because as much as I avoid media it's impossible to totally avoid) I had some major eye-rolling to do.  One is not a "hero" for winning a game, for getting paid millions upon millions to put a ball in a basket.  This is new, it really is.  This used to be called bragging and I was taught that bragging was wrong in the ancient times when I was raised. :)  What ever happened to being humble???   And recognizing true heroes (who are the ones who would never draw attention to themselves in the first place, go figure.)

"Humility means to being as interested in other people as you are in yourself.  I means that when you meet new people, you try to learn something about them before going off on a spiel about incredible your current project is.  Humility means listening when someone else is talking, instead of just preparing your own speechlet in your head before you've really heard what the other person is saying. Humility means making sustained effort to get other people to share their views before trying to inundate them with yours."

"The opposite of humility is inflated self-esteem."

And we are up against a culture who teaches us to constantly praise our children, where they see these images and see adults spouting their "heroism", when social media is chock full of the "look at me", "here I am".

Gratitude goes hand in hand with humility and the prioritization of family time and family work teaches appreciation, and gratitude for the things we have.

2. Enjoy.
Time-prioritizing time with your children-family life needs to mean more than a career and extra-curricular activities. We can't enjoy our kids if we are not with them, and we are sending them a terrible message-what you DO is more important than who you ARE.

It's about time.  Time=love.

3. The Meaning of Love

"The middle class script:
1. Work hard in school so you can get into get into a good college.
2. Get into a good college so you can get a good job.
3. Get a good job and you will make a good living and have a good life."
"There are several problems with this script. The first problem is that every line in it is false."
-The race to nowhere.-

"Your job as parent is not to reinforce the middle-class script but to undermine it."

He talks about preparing our children for disappointment, for failure, for struggle and to take risks and be resilient enough to pick themselves up and start again.

We as parents must offer a bigger picture when asked by our children, "What's this all for?"

What's the purpose of life?
"1. Meaningful work.
2. A person to love.
3. A cause to embrace."

"What work might your child find most meaningful?  How can you prepare your child to give and receive love in a lasting relationship?  how can you help your kids find a cause, something larger than themselves, that they can champion with enthusiasm?"

We must be able to provide a bigger picture for our children, they will NOT and ARE NOT getting it from peers.  Children can not raise children.

"Without strong guidance from parents, children and teeangers turn to the marketplace for guidance about what counts.  And today the American marketplace-the maintstream culture in which most American children and teenagers take part-is focused narrowly and relentlessly on fame and wealth. In the culture of Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga and Kim Kardishian, fame and money and looking cool matter most.  But the pursuit of fame and wealth and good looks for their own sake impoverishes the soul.

The conscientious child or teen is more likely to develop into a conscientious adult: a woman or man mature enough to set meaningful goals and work toward them with integrity.  To serve others.  And to love, honestly and faithfully."

We parents have to:

Create an alternative culture in our home.
Assert ourselves without apology as the prime influence (not peers.)
Teach that family comes first and must be respected.
Teach that every choice our child makes has immediate, far-reaching, and unforeseen consequences.
We must help our children find the meaning in life that is NOT about their latest accomplishment, how they look, how many friends they have.
We must judge our success as parents not by how many friends they have, or their GPA, or acceptance letter from a famous college, but whether they are on the road to fulfillment and capable of governing their needs.


  1. thank you for summarizing the book so well! i only read it a month or so ago, but this was a good reminder. i'll be honest, it made me a little teary reading your post. it is all SO true! and SO important.

  2. Thank you Sarah! I love visiting your blog and getting these great reminders and guidance on the important things, such a breath of fresh air!

  3. Ahhh so good! I put this book on hold at the library and never picked it up. I just re-requested it and am really looking forward to diving into it!

  4. I'm significantly older than you (my fourth of 4 children is 31), BUT this sounds like it ought to be required reading before anyone has kids.
    I do work now (ready to retire & enjoy grandkids) but I didn't work outside the home when they were growing up. SOMEONE has to be the full-time parent - & that's why families are getting smaller and smaller.
    Working at a university, I also see how public schools & parenting failures are failing our children - they get a 32 on an ACT score but are completely unable to make decisions. No critical thinking skills.
    I realize I sound like a geezer, but I do have some perspective, and I totally agree with you!

  5. Reading this book right now also....every parent should read it.

  6. I'm actually halfway through this book right now thanks to your mention of it in another post you wrote awhile back. Really enjoying it!

  7. Can't wait to read this one...love Leonard sax. It's a breath of fresh air to know one is not alone is this thinking. Thank you for sharing some of it!

  8. I decided to read this book after reading your earlier post about it. Loved it!!! Thanks for the recommendation!

  9. OMG THANK YOU FOR THIS!!! This is all so so so good, thank you for taking the time to write this. What a great book. I will save and read this over and over!

  10. I can't tell you how much I enjoy your blog. Posts like this will always keep me coming back! And I also love that you don't post like crazy and are realistic about your time with your family vs time on your blog. Just another reason I love your blog.

    Please don't ever stop writing here. I can't even tell you how much some of your posts have been so influential to my parenting philosophies.

  11. THANK YOU for this excellent summary!

  12. Sarah, do your kids fight? Do they ever say I hate you to eachother and are physical ... my boys who are 6 and 4 have started this. How on earth do i handle this its so heartbreaking. Your blog and everything you post uplifts me and helps me train my children :)

    1. Yes they fight argue bicker tease get impatient with each other and sometimes but rarely physical. I am sensitive to it like you are and try to intercede so it doesn't escalate. Lay down the law on things you won't tolerate-saying "shut up", or "I hate you"-there is just a "no way we don't say that" and maybe a punishment like sitting on chairs if they do until they just learn it's a "no way" thing. I really hard to learn that boys can get mad and even physical and then be done with the whole thing and no hard feelings in like two minutes, and I would be so bothered by it for a day. But I hate anything that escalates to physical so I definitely have laid down the law about that and if it ever happens I am angry and they know it.
      Something that has made a huge difference when there seems to be a divide between any two siblings is having a quiet moment alone and letting them each know separately how the other sibling feels about them and what their role is, even if you have to embellish a little. "You are his older brother and he learns everything from you-he looks to you for guidance and advice and will always-you have to remember he is learning to get along with others and share from you, and will need to know that when he goes to school. He loves you, he told me the other day that he wishes he could be as good a Lego inventor as you are.... You are such a good playmate to him but if things ever get so hard that you get really mad and can't work it out please come and get me." etc etc etc. It helps them put hard feelings aside I think and makes them feel like they have a responsibility to get along. I think this is good to do always here and there throughout each year.
      Another thing-Jeff and I tell stories of getting along or not getting along with siblings when they were kids-usually funny things, but I also tell how something made me feel-when I was mean to my little sister, how I still remember it and how awful it made me feel too, or how it felt to be teased repeatedly about this or that, and also how forgiveness comes into play and being sensitive to others.
      But all that aside, it's August and we are all a little tired and CLOSE, so there is nothing wrong with "cut it out, don't say that ever in my house, go to your rooms or sit in the chair, that's enough I've had it" either. :) Save the little wordy lessons for a special one-on-one ice cream trip maybe.

    2. Sarah, Thank you for this comment and for the original question. My 8 year old son and 5 year old daughter have been fighting this year, and, to me, that is very upsetting. This summer has been very trying, but I think things are getting better. It is nice to hear that this is normal (but also unacceptable to another parent), and I appreciate the practical advice. Thank you for all of your wonderful blog posts. Your blog has had so many parenting gems throughout the years.

  13. Thank you for summarizing! This book is on my to-read list but it'll be forever and a day for me to get to it.

  14. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this book Sarah! I have never read it, but I will look for it now on Amazon. You wrote a very powerful review and I agree with all the points both you and the author made. I love it that the scripture "train up a child" is the basis for this book, and a truth from the Word that research cannot deny. That is awesome!

  15. Just ordered the book. Catching up on your blog and every time I'm reminding how much I love it. You are an inspiration to me.

  16. Thanks for this. I just purchased the book. I have an 8-month old - my first - but I've been reading your blog long before I had her and I always said that I would check your blog for parenting advice once I had my own. Thanks again.