I have long maintained that the significant per-capita increase in child and adolescent mental health problems since the 1960s — a ten-fold increase in suicide, for example — is due to the collective embrace of a parenting paradigm that has proven itself to be not only dysfunctional but also dangerous — ironically, to child and teen mental health. This new paradigm, which I term “Postmodern Psychological Parenting,” was cut from whole cloth by America’s mental health establishment.
I was in graduate school when PPP was cobbled together, given fake scientific bona fides, and set in motion. At its core is the notion that good parenting is primarily a matter of permitting, understanding, and properly responding to a child’s emotional expressions.
Individuals who have achieved a state of authentic adulthood — which has nothing to do with one’s chronological age — know that emotions are, on one hand, one of the wonders of being human but on the other, one of the most destructive of human attributes. On their dark side, they destroy people and relationships, not to mention various personal properties ranging from dishes and lamps to Wal Marts. Like a child’s thinking, emotions must be disciplined, trained. The chaff of emotion must be separated from the wheat and the earlier that training begins, the better for all concerned.
The term “behavior modification” entered parenting vocabulary in the late 1960s. The implication was that the discipline of a child was all about his or her behavior. Previously, before psychobabble reigned in American childrearing, it was generally understood that discipline was needed to teach children not only to behave correctly, but also to think and emote correctly. In fact, proper (pro-social) behavior is nothing more than an indication of proper thinking and emotional restraint.
Unfortunately, the new paradigm took hold and has wreaked havoc since. Ironically, the very profession responsible for the national child and adolescent mental health mess markets itself as exclusively qualified to treat it. At the individual level, psychologists (keep in mind, dear reader, I am one) call it by various scientific-sounding names like “emotional dysregulation disorder” that, as in that very case, have no scientific validity whatsoever.
One “treatment” facility’s website says that kids with EDD “can have biological predispositions for emotional reactivity that can be exasperated by chronic low levels of invalidation in their environments resulting in emotional dysregulation.” I think they meant “exacerbated by chronically low levels of validation.” Nonetheless, said facility can prove not one aspect of that statement. Furthermore, validating a child’s every emotion is at the heart of the problem, not by any means a solution.
The solution is for parents to stop allowing their children’s emotional states to drive their decisions and run their families; for parents to stop striving for fun, give-and-take relationships with their kids and assume their rightful authority — calm, decisive, rational and intentional.
Paradoxically, good child mental health begins with the child realizing his parents are not there to ensure his perpetual happiness. He will be much happier from that point on.
Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com.