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Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Bratology

Dorothea must have been sending vibes in the direction of the San Francisco Chronicle. The cover story of this Sunday’s magazine features a review of a new book by local shrink and family expert, Dr. Robert Shaw, on trends in modern parenting that, in his view, are leading to an epidemic of bratty children.

Shaw’s book is a scathing critique, and its long-winded title will give you a sense of its tone: "The Epidemic: The Rot of American Culture, Absentee and Permissive Parenting, and the Resultant Plague of Joyless, Selfish Children., "

Shaw’s book could possibly turn out to be a bit over the top. It remains to be seen. I’ m sure it will generate a loud chorus of dissent. Nonetheless, I know from personal experience that Shaw is striking an important chord.

This happens to be my wife Jill’s area of expertise. The demand for her services is noticeably increasing as more and more modern parents—especially in the highly educated, professional and academic areas in which she practices—seem to be losing control of their overly child-centric families. There is real desperation out there. You can almost taste it.

I remember my sense of disbelief when, around five years ago, Jill observed that she was beginning to get parents who deeply held to the principle that their child should never be allowed to cry or experience pain. Any evidence of upset must immediately be attended to, according to this theory.

Children need lots of comforting and TLC—that’s indisputable. But to be shielded from any experience of frustration? How can educated people be so stupid? What a horrible disservice to the developmental needs of a child. You can see the result with increasing frequency—i.e., bratty behavior that is allowed to continue, unchecked. Children as rulers of the family. Scenes such as Dorothea describes in the typical uncompromising fashion that’s an important part of her blog’s great appeal.

This state of affairs is good for Jill’s business but that hardly makes it welcome. Jill says that the primary culprits are exhausted parents, guilt-ridden because of too little family time; an increasingly materialistic and competitive culture; and a fear-driven emphasis on specific skills (which may or may not be useful twenty years from now) rather than—as she put it in a recent letter to professional colleagues—“what remains timeless . . . the character traits: honesty, empathy, compassion, flexibility, humor, perseverance, optimism . . . the same traits that have served people well for centuries.”

How will this trend get reversed? I’d like to blame it on Bush, of course, but it started before his disastrous reign and will continue after we throw the bastard out. Perhaps the only answer is: step by step, one family at a time, with the help of committed and intelligent professionals like my wonderful wife.

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