Dr. Leonard Sax, family physician, psychologist, and author of The Collapse of Parenting, joined Timmerie Geagea on a recent episode of Trending with Timmerie to discuss the concept of “gentle parenting” and why it’s dangerous for parents and children alike.
Dr. Sax began with a story from a medical appointment that he had had earlier this year in which a mother had brought her 6-year-old daughter in to see Dr. Sax because she had a fever. The mother explained her daughter’s situation and symptoms. Upon concluding this preliminary step, Dr. Sax attempted to begin the examination by having the girl open her mouth and say “Ah”, a classic first step in any medical exam.
The girl clenched her mouth and shook her head, as children are wont to do with doctors or dentists. Dr. Sax turned to the mother and lightheartedly explained that he may need her assistance in getting the girl to open her mouth. The mother, in denial, replied, “Her body, her choice.” Understandably, Dr. Sax was taken aback.
As you may know, “My body, my choice” – and all derivative turns of the phrase – were popularized by the pro-abortion movement in an attempt to argue that nobody can tell a pregnant woman what to do with her baby because it’s the mother’s body. Ignoring the blatant absurdity of that idea, the phrase has more recently been adopted by people who wish to communicate that they can do anything they want, and they don’t have to do anything that they don’t.
Of course, in this situation, it doesn’t make sense either: Children do not, in fact, have the right to do anything that they wish, a parent is responsible for their child’s health, and the mother is the one who brought her daughter to Dr. Sax in the first place. This child, as Dr. Sax explained, is a victim of gentle parenting.
“Gentle parenting” is the idea that parents should approach the process of raising their children from a position of passivity: never command your child, never tell your child “No”, do not discipline your child physically or verbally. You can suggest and encourage your child to do or not do something, but ultimately, it’s up to your child.
Dr. Sax said that he’s witnessed “permissive parenting” for decades, but in past cases, parents appeared helpless because they’d simply failed to reign in the misbehavior. However, this new wave of gentle parenting doesn’t treat long leashes like a mistake. It actively and aggressively encourages permissiveness. To gentle parents, the idea of allowing a child to run the show is seen as virtuous and empowering.
One of the tenants of gentle parenting is to help identify and affirm the emotions that your child is feeling when they don’t know how to control it. While a nice sentiment, it’s dangerous in practice.
Dr. Sax gave an example: a 10-year-old girl was not invited to her classmate’s birthday party at Six Flags. When she got home from school, she burst into tears as she explained it to her mom. The mom said to her, “Oh, honey, you must feel so sad!” And she began to cry with her daughter.
“That’s gentle parenting for sure, but it’s not best practice,” said Dr. Sax. “Because what [that mother] has just done is communicated to her daughter that yes, whether or not you’re invited to a party is a really big deal and if you’re not invited, we should both burst into tears. That’s a really bad message to send to your kid.”
So, what’s the alternative to this? How do you help your child grow thick skin and understand that not every problem is a personal attack and an insurmountable obstacle? Be proactive. Get involved. Offer guidance, advice, and discipline. Children need strong authority figures and role models. They don’t need their parents to be another child. If you intend for your child to build character and maturity, they need structure, a good example of sacrifice, and someone to show them the way forward.
Not getting invited to a birthday party feels bad, but parents shouldn’t reinforce the idea that something so insignificant is so traumatic. They should teach their child to walk it off and look for the upside. What’s the silver lining?
“I submit that a wiser parent would have said something like, ‘Oh, so you thought you were going to be busy a week from Saturday but now you’re free. Hey, that new bike trail they opened up? You and me, let’s put it on the calendar. We’re going for a bike ride,’” said Dr. Sax. “In other words, you’re sending the message, ‘Walk it off. It’s not that big of a deal.’”
Don’t be a gentle parent. Be a proactive one.
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