Dr Michael Carr-Gregg is one of Australia’s leading child and adolescent psychologists. In his new book, Strictly Parenting, Michael talks us through the different styles of modern parenting — and calls out today’s “crap parents”.
I must confess, after reading some of his book, some of my own parenting techniques seem questionable.
I caught up with the controversial man of the moment to find out why today’s parents are doing it wrong.
Congratulations on your new book, Strictly Parenting. Now, the tough question. Explain the chapter — “The unfortunate rise of crap parenting”.
Well, it is a very small part of the book, but I think there’s a group of parents who aren’t saying no. I’ve called it the “vitamin N deficiency” and it’s about not setting boundaries that really matter and not allowing kids to experience adversity. Basically we’re talking about high strung, control freak parents who smother their kids so much that they never develop all-important self reliance and problem solving skills.
There’s often a rule among friends where you don’t tell each other how to parent, what do you think about that?
There are a lot of PC psychologists out there who say parenting is suboptimal but [the parents are] trying their best. No, they’re not, actually. There’s a portion of parents who are obsessed with the safety of their kids, they don’t want them to take risks, they’re focused on reducing potential hazards and they see impending peril everywhere, and as a result the kids are anxious and dependent and that isn’t good parenting.
As someone who’s probably guilty of a few of those things because we only have one child, and may only have one child because that’s what life’s dealt us, I cant help but be protective. And I also can’t help indulging her sometimes because she’s just so precious to me.
Look, I feel the same way about my children, but you’ve got to realise there’s a time when that’s appropriate. She’s only two so that’s perfectly appropriate to provide her with an environment where she feels safe and valued and listened to. I guess I’m talking about when she’s 14. And what I’m seeing is parenting practices in Australia which are about not letting kids take those healthy risks which are so important for her future development.
So what else are you covering in Strictly Parenting?
I’m talking about dealing with the common problems that people have. For example, the whole issue of sleep. We’ve now got Grade 5 students who are some of the most sleep deprived children in the world, so I’m talking about the importance of sleep and how parents need to set boundaries. Those are the big ones — sleep, drugs and alcohol, curfews, internet and exercise, these are the really important ones as far as I’m concerned.
What kind of sleep should kids be getting?
At adolescence they should be getting nine hours a night and the latest research says most get about five. The result is, they’re chronically sleep deprived, it affects their mood, they’re irritable and grumpy, it affects their learning because they can’t concentrate or remember anything. And of course as a result they’re not firing on all psychological cylinders and I think it’s a parental obligation to make sure our kids get enough rest.
Can you explain to me what “helicopter parenting” is?
Helicopter parenting is where essentially you smother the child, you don’t allow them to take any healthy risks, because you’re hovering over them like a drone the whole time and if anything terrible is about to happen you swoop in and rescue them. The best analogy is to think of how you learnt to ride a bike — you got up, fell off a couple of times and then you finally got the hang of it. What we’ve got right across Australia is this idea of trying to rescue them all the time, and I think that’s probably going to make their problem solving skills suboptimal by the time they grow up.
You know what we’ve got in schools today? Kids getting participation ribbons for going in running races! I don’t understand the logic of this because you don’t get a participation degree at uni; you actually have to learn to associate effort with outcome.
We’ve even got schools banning “best friends” because if you have a best friend and you might break up, you’d be sad, and god forbid you experience a normal emotion. So what we’re seeing is the wussification of an entire generation. As a psychologist who speaks frequently in the media, I’m not going to stand still anymore and not say anything!
Look, it’s always so interesting talking to you, Michael. The book is called Strictly Parenting, which reminds me of Strictly Ballroom — and parenting is a dance, isn’t it!
Absolutely! You’ve just got to make sure your foot goes in the right place!