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Posted: Oct 3, 2004 10:53


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The Rot of American Culture, Absentee and Permissive Parenting, And the Resultant Plague Of Joyless, Selfish Children
By: Robert Shaw, M.D.
NY:HarperCollins books:2003

Reviewed by: Lon Woodbury

As indicated in the sub-title, this book makes the case that permissive parenting is the root cause of much of the anti-social actions we too often see in children today. With part social commentary and part specific suggestions for parents, the author, Robert Shaw M.D., criticizes child-care professionals in general for advocating confusing and conflicting advice to parents. He insists that with few exceptions, parents would do better in raising their children if they relied on their own instinct and common sense, rather than following the dictates of the latest popular fad in child-raising. He insists we have forgotten as a society how to raise children, and laments that parents tend to follow popular advice even when it goes against their own instincts. He concludes that this contributes to all kinds of problems in children as they grow older, including reading difficulties, selfishness, unhappiness and anti-social behaviors.

The author offers as a diagnosis: “Our society has spawned an entire generation of cognitively smart but emotionally stunted children who can’t appreciate the feelings and needs of other people. We are in the middle of an epidemic that is devouring the children of comfortable, affluent and educated parents.”

He emphasizes that many of the behaviors that the public view usually associates with inner city children has actually moved into the suburbs and upper scale neighborhoods. In this assessment, he is just making a point that all of us in the Emotional Growth/Therapeutic School and Program network have been aware of for more than 20 years. In fact, the entire network served by Woodbury Reports and this newsletter is based on this reality. We help parents make the extreme decision to find residential placement for their children with behavioral and emotional problems. By far the major part of our clientele are professional families with successful careers who live in the suburbs and upper scale neighborhoods.

The author begins with the importance of parents scheduling their life around the needs of the child (without giving the child arbitrary power over the family), rather than scheduling the child’s routine around the parent’s career needs. He offers observations and advice on all stages of child development, and throughout the book, he provides examples of how parents both handled and mishandled those situations commonly faced by every parent.

For example, he insists that during pregnancy it is not too soon for parents to plan how they will balance child-care and career. He observes that trade-offs will be necessary, and that a parent expecting to “have it all” is a high risk for producing children that will be at-risk for all kinds of future problems. Shaw says a child’s basic need is to attach to a care-giver (preferably a parent), and this is done through consistent and soothing-caring interactions with the child. For example, although he says the research indicates significant advantages for babies who are breast fed, it is better to bottle feed a baby if breast feeding creates tension. The most important thing is a positive interaction between the mother and child, rather than rigidly adhering to some “expert’s” ideal.

In another example, he points out that regardless of the age, a child feels secure when sensible and reasonable boundaries are established. He points out that there appears to be an increasing number of parents who cannot say no to their children, but instead try to negotiate with them. He concludes this “negotiation” approach is depriving these children of the security of knowing their place in the family, thus increasing the consequent insecurities and potential for the child to eventually turn to high risk activities.

The principles expressed in this book are very consistent with the basic principles of Emotional Growth schools and programs. Actually, these schools and programs are essentially “re-parenting,” for when the basic lessons Dr. Shaw discusses did not take. In this book, he focuses on how parents can provide the attachment, nurturing, and boundaries a child needs in order to grow up emotionally healthy, but it also describes the goals and mission of a quality Emotional Growth Residential school or program.

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