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Why Have Good Parents Gone Bad?

Dr Wendy Mogel posed this question when presenting at the Young Minds Conference  in Sydney this week. Dr Mogel is an acclaimed clinical psychologist, parenting expert and author of The New York Times best-selling parenting book, The Blessing of a B-Minus. Her presentation explored the ‘new normal’ for today’s parents and she made some practical suggestions for raising self-reliant children and teenagers.

Dr Mogel says that parents today are either afraid for their children, or afraid of their children. In her clinical experience, she reports meeting many loving, devoted parents who treat their typically developing children as “handicapped royalty” or “fascist dictators”. Mogel says that parents are reacting to their “perfectly ordinary children as if they have no prospects for their future.”

Dr Mogel’s presentation was light-hearted and humorous. It’s easy to laugh along with her quirky anecdotes about number-crunching parents who analyse their children as being either “behind’’ or  “ahead” of the pack. There are lots of head nods in the audience as people call to mind the Piagetian parent that Mogel paints – the one who fits Jean Piaget’s theory* of early cognitive development – those parents that panic when they can’t see their child in the park, immediately assuming they have permanently disappeared. But perhaps the laughter is also a little nervous. Could there be a Piagetian parent in all of us?

Increasing global concerns make parents worry, says Dr Mogel. Yes, technology is moving faster than ever and sweeping our children along with it. Yes, the planet appears to be melting. Yes, the world is a competitive playing field. So what do we do about the things we can’t control? We try to control what we think we can – our children, says Mogel.

Dr Mogel cites a few common examples of over-parenting she has observed:

  • the generation of fussy eaters who have learned to be fussy because their parents have never allowed them to feel hungry.
  • the pressure on schools to ‘give’ parents the teacher they want for their child due to “my child’s particular learning needs”.Let all children have a bad 4th grade teacher,” asserts Mogel, “it prepares them for the bad boss they will have in the future.
  • children excused from household chores because they have a test. I.Have.A.Test. are the four words Mogel says will excuse teenagers from any household responsibilities.

Dr Mogel explains that adolescence is a uniquely challenging period for children and parents. She quotes startling figures that the period of adolescence is now starting younger than ever and is thought to continue until age 24 in females and age 29 in males.

From puberty to nearly 30 is a long-haul journey. And for parents that project the snapshot of adolescence as “the epic movie of their child’s life” it can seem a treacherous path. But the key, says Mogel, is to prepare our children for the road, not smooth it for them.

Mogel offers an 18-step program called Overparenting Anonymous on her website.