As promised, albeit a bit later than anticipated, here is a synopsis of Dr. Sax's latest book. See the April 7th posting below for an overview of the man and his mission.
Much of what concerned Dr. Sax six years ago is still problematic today, but the media have changed. Facebook is out, Snapchat and Instagram are hot. But in a blink, some new social medium will pop up to engage kids and flummox parents who are desperate to keep up.
The first bit of good advice from Dr. Sax: following your child (most likely your daughter) on social media is a losing proposition. He advocates controlling the source -- whatever the source.
"Oh! But I want my child to be happy. And being ‘liked’ on line is really, really important to her," say the parents who have come to him for advice on how to help their daughter who is depressed, stressed, bulimic-- name the worry.
Dr. Sax does not pull punches. The title of his latest book (2016) captures his passion: The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them like Grown-Ups. The Three Things You Must Do to Help Your Child or Teen Become a Fulfilled Adult.
Dr. Sax has heard and seen it all thousands of times in his family practice, and in about 400 visits to schools around the world where he talks with parents, teachers, and students. He also researches and with his academic background, is able to ferret out the data and analyze the trends.
What is sad is that the trends are hardening into a new normal. In 2003, I wrote a column titled "Parents Make THE Difference." At the time, the research indicated that though teens were drawn to peers, the ultimate influence in their lives was their parents. The assumption that television, videos, Hollywood celebrity culture and peer pressure held sway over teens’ underlying values and behaviors did not hold. Kids, like generations before them, wanted most to please their parents.
Not so with today's teens. The power of social media consumes them, often 24 hours a day. They sleep with their phone -- waking in the wee hours of the night to check how many”likes” they have, and on that all-important notification box. They seek to have hundreds of followers -- "friends" on line - but ironically don't have actual friends with whom they hang out with in person.
Dr. Sax, MD sees the ill effects of sleep deprivation and unrelenting stress in the children he treats. Add to the usual demands of teen life — school, sports, music/dance/etc. lessons — the constant checking and updating of their social status on the smart phone and kids literally are “on” almost 24/7. Dr. Sax’s advice a decade ago still holds. Phones are not only turned off at 9 or 10, but are put in the parents' bedroom to be charged. Nothing to see here, kids, just go to sleep!
He offers advice on parent controls. But what he prefers is a healthy dialogue in the family on what is reasonable use that can promote positive self-image and not enslave the soul to faceless "friends" in cyberspace. And since teens are driven by the social emotional center of the brain, and not by the executive center -- that frontal lobe is still developing -- it is imperative that parents (who DO have a fully developed frontal lobe) make decisions for their child.
Again, he finds parents balk at this. "But I want him to develop self-efficacy," is the reply when Dr. Sax suggests that the parents set up parameters. Dr. Sax agrees that the ultimate goal is a self-efficient, fully functioning adult. But if the teen brain is overwhelmed by forces that impede its natural and healthy development, how can it grow the cells that will support adult behaviors?
For boys, the concern is the obsession with video games. Dr. Sax cites many studies, as well as cases from his practice, that should convince any parent to set strict limits on gaming time. Just as the smart phone is out of the hands of your daughter by a set time each night, the games are shut down after a limited time.
Getting lost in social media or lost in video games means losing out on how to relate to people, how to communicate ideas, how to work in collaboration with others, how to engage in the real world. Dr. Sax writes that "No child is born knowing the rules of enculturation." The culture boys see in games is often violent, misogynistic, and grossly unrealistic. The culture girls find in social media is consumed with body images, sexual behaviors, crazy fads that are equally unrealistic. No wonder boys can't talk to a girl, let alone know how to date, or that girls are so miserable about how they look that they despair that anyone will ever think they are attractive. What boys and girls need is to be involved in the culture of their family and real live friends. They need to "value their parents' opinion as their first scale of value," Dr. Sax explains. Ah, but to do that, they have to have a relationship with their parents, which is built on daily communication and social interaction.
Back to setting limits of screen time for social media and gaming.
But Dr. Sax has other thoughts on how to build relationships. Tis the season of family vacations. Dr. Sax tells of families who leave one parent home with a teen who refuses to go with the family. Or the many families who take the teen’s best friend with them. He is emphatic in saying, "Don't accommodate the kids." Everyone in the family goes on vacation. And just family. Preferably, vacation to a place with NO cell service. Make time for conversation. If there is no one to talk to, they will talk to you!
Here's the bottom line that kids need to understand. Everything in their social media /peer connected world is CONDITIONAL approval. Parents and families (grandparents, aunts and uncles, siblings and cousins) love us UNCONDITIONALLY. They are part of us and you are part of them.
The disconnect kids have from the real world is a serious challenge. But Dr. Sax also addresses a concern that has gotten a lot of press lately. Chapter 5: Why are so many children so fragile?
So much makes our young adults depressed, anxious, afraid, and offended. They file official complaints against college curriculum, professors' lectures, political speech, and on and on. The slights and offenses are felt early on – such as not being invited to a birthday party — and are taken very seriously by parents who jump in to “make it better.” Are we protecting our children? Advocating for them? Or rendering them incapable of facing a world that is full of stings and arrows?
None of this is new to parents who are paying attention. Major newspapers, magazines, news shows scream headlines on the perils of "growing up in the screen age,” the age of “the helicopter parent” and colleges populated by “snowflakes.” Dr. Sax provides antidotes for the ills -- IF parents are willing to get tough and smart to administer what is needed.
In Part Two of the book, Dr. Sax offers “Solutions,” including making his case — as promoted in the subtitle — for his “three things you must do to help your child or teen become a fulfilled adult.”
All parents, of all ages, need to read this book and consider the wisdom of this man’s experience and research. It is a quick read, but not particularly easy as much of what he addresses are the tough realities of every parent’s life. However, it is obvious that Dr. Sax cares deeply about parents and their children. He is passionate that kids can grow up to be mentally, emotionally, and physically fit. Listen to the doctor!
I wrote a column, Book Notes, for many years for local central NJ weeklies. Newspapers are a dying breed, but the desire to share thoughts on books lives on.