A clinical developmental psychiatrist with 24 years of experience, Dr. Jocelyn Miller of Dean Health Systems observes that the kids she sees today are clearly "not the same kids" she worked with at the beginning of her career. What's changed? More and more, children from birth to five years old are raised in two households and in full-time daycare.
As accepted as this situation is, it allows for multiple sets of rules and varied levels of discipline by many different adults. Miller believes the result is kids with unclear behavioral expectations. Since children's response to authority is set by the age of five, whether they have what she calls a "healthy fear" of their parents and other adult authority figures has been molded before they ever set foot in school. There's even something called oppositional defiant disorder, which is on the rise clinically, thought to stem from a "societal lack of clear expectations."
Varying systems of societal authority don't work together the way they once did. Not that long ago, adults represented authority across the board, whether they were parents, teachers, the bus driver or your next-door neighbors. If a rule or discipline was handed down by another adult, parents backed them up. Today, Miller sees parents undermining teachers and other adult authorities, as if to say, "Don't you dare discipline my child."
This could stem from the new list of parental fears: fear of child abuse from other adults, fear of their own child reporting them for abuse, and fear of child abduction. During the 1970s child abuse laws gained a lot of ground and have done much good, but some of that good came with unforeseen negatives. Couple that with the enormous amount of media attention given to any child abduction, and its all the more reason for parents to fear other adults.
A second factor is that many parents that Miller sees today tend to be uncomfortable with their own parental authority and are reluctant to instill that "healthy fear" in their kids. Since many parents today grew up in the "question authority" mindset of post-1960, she theorizes it's due in part to their own relationship with authority. She's also observing a "mismatch of parental strategy to the age of the child." For example, parents trying to reason with their four-year old when reasoning isn't really appropriate until about age 14.
Add to that overstimulation from too much screen time (think computers, videogames and television) plus overscheduling and insufficient downtime. Miller suggests limiting screen time and encouraging three-dimensional play with other kids - like designing forts and building with Legos. And while she encourages outdoor play, too much structured activity can be exhausting. She recommends one sport per child per sport season, and ideally there is one season off from scheduled sports completely.