Book Excerpt: It Takes a Parent

Seligman blames the self-esteem craze, too. The emphasis on self-esteem has made millions of people think there's something wrong with them if they don't feel good about themselves at any given moment, versus a more balanced rational approach: "I don't feel good about myself right now, but I will later." The two other causes of depression, according to Seligman, are the "teaching of victimology and helplessness" and runaway consumerism. (From The Progress Paradox.)

Memo to parents: Wake up!

Meanwhile, maybe, just maybe, even some parenting experts may be starting to think we have a problem. In the article "Are You a Parent or a Pushover?" in the January 2004 issue of Parents magazine, Kellye Carter Crocker reported on a Parents survey in which most mothers expressed "deep concern over today's discipline methods." Eighty-eight percent of these mothers said parents "let children get away with too much," although only 40 percent thought that problem applied to their own kids. The math seems a little implausible, but the point is an important one.

Magazine surveys may be notoriously inaccurate, but this one reveals some level of angst over how kids are being raised. As Crocker writes, parents may be "sensing what mounting evidence is starting to reveal: Some of the discipline strategies that have been in vogue in recent years just aren't working. Elaborate systems that give kids multiple chances, prolonged discussions about the 'feelings' behind bad behavior, negotiations about consequences and so on are often ineffective."

Yet, such strategies are still the mainstay of the parenting culture.

That's why this book is more about parents than children. Out-of-control kids very often come from parents who are not in control. They may be wonderful, giving, generous people who are devoted to their children. But too many of them are like the mom and her parenting coach, who think it's a great idea to pay off a preschooler just for not throwing a huge fit.

The following is a recent advice column from Parents.com, the website of Parents magazine. Forget the answers; it's the questions from these typically loving, educated, middle-class moms and dads that tell us how kids are being raised today.

Q: When I ask my four-and-a-half-year-old to do something like set the table or clean up his toys, he insists he's busy or just says "no"! What should I do?

Q: Our three-year-old loves to boss us around. If I say, "Let's wear white socks," she says, "Blue!" If I say, "Let's brush our teeth," she says, "No! Pajamas first!" We want her to feel like she has a say, but this is getting ridiculous!

Q: Bedtime has become an exhausting ordeal. My son always needs one more thing—another story, a glass of water, a different blanket. How can I get him to stay in bed?

Q: I can never have an uninterrupted phone conversation! Every time the phone rings, my daughter makes a fuss or clings to me like glue.

Q: My three-year-old has started to cry whenever she can't get her way. Should I just ignore her?

You get the picture—and it's not a pretty one. These are caring parents, but they are not portraits of parental courage, which is exactly what their kids need them to be if the children are going to have their hearts shaped for the good.

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