Parenting

The Demise of Authority -- Blame Today's Parents

| by Suzanne Venker
The first time I realized something was amiss in our culture was after I graduated from college. Like everyone else, I emerged from my cocoon an idealistic and naive twenty-two year old. But it didn't take long for the seeds of wisdom to be planted.

My early public school teaching experiences provided a quick lesson in the ways of the world. The new world. Somewhere over the previous twenty years, while I was busy becoming a young woman, our culture changed. I grew up on Leave It to Beaver, The Brady Bunch, Family Affair, Bewitched, and all the other benign programs that hailed from the 1950s and 60s. But the world these characters inhabited was quite different from the world I would soon enter.

We could all identify the countless changes -- both good and bad -- that have occurred in our culture these past forty years. But there is one change in particular that is so monumental, and so far-reaching, that it colors all the rest. I'm referring to the complete breakdown of authority in our culture. This isn't a problem that only abounds in our public schools and in the streets of America; it is a chronic and pervasive problem in our homes. Leave It to Beaver, The Brady Bunch, and all the rest get a lot of flack for representing an idealized nuclear family -- mom at home, dad at work -- that some people claim never really existed, or at the very least wasn't realistic. But regardless of how you feel about traditional families, they have one undeniable characteristic: They represent a time in our history when adults were in charge.

When I entered the teaching profession, I had no idea teachers and principals weren't in charge of their schools. It took changing jobs, several times, before it registered that the problem wasn't isolated. After about five years I realized the problem was pervasive -- and I left the teaching profession. Without strong administrations, teachers can't do their job.

The only positive teaching experience I had came several years later -- some ten years ago now -- at a private school. Discipline problems were virtually non-existent. When it came to decorum, the teachers and administration were largely on the same page. Despite the fact that the school was progressive, allowing students to call teachers by their first names, authority remained in its proper place.

Then, at age 32, I became a mother -- and these past nine years have been eye-opening. The same lack of authority I witnessed in the schools I have witnessed as a parent. Indeed, this problem was more prevalent than I realized. Something has seriously gone wrong in America.

When it comes to discplining children, there's no question some adults find it easier than others. Whether a teacher or a parent, discipline becomes front and center. It is the catalyst by which children learn and grow. Without strong discipline, everything else you try to do will fall by the wayside.

The 1960s represent the first time in our nation's history when people began to question authority en masse. This was the generation that grew up with Father Knows Best, a time when rules weren't meant to be questioned. These were the children who were raised with the expectation that they'd comply with whatever was asked of them. And when they didn't, they'd get whacked. It was a parenting pattern that worked with respect to good discpline, but the children of these parents questioned the healthiness of such an environment. What about the kid who doesn't tow the line? Should he be shamed or punished so severely? This was the rise of the non-mainstream child. Whether in our classrooms or in our homes, the non mainstream child -- the kid who isn't like everyone else -- became front and center, and a new concept of tolerance was born.

I'm all for tolerance. Tolerance is good. The problem is, America is a country hell bent on extremes. Rather than simply tweak our parenting to be less of a dictatorship, we decided to be our kids' friends. This was a mistake of monumental proportions. Disciplining children is hard enough on its own; living in a culture that undermines this work is a catastrophe. Far too many parents today (dare I say most?) are not authoritative with their children out of fear of damaging their psyches. Consequently, their homes are chaotic -- and their children are in charge.

It is a terrible problem that must be addressed. Modern parents need support in a way parents have never needed before. We've transitioned from a nation when "children are meant to be seen and not heard" to a nation of spoiled, disrespectful, undisciplined kids. There's a reason for it. It didn't just happen. Children come out of the womb exactly the way they did one hundred years ago.

Kids haven't changed one iota. Parents have.