What to Do When Traditional Parenting Rules Don’t Apply

Traditional Parenting Rules Often Don’t Apply Anymore, So Parents are Seeking Out New Solutions

What to Do When Traditional Parenting Rules Don’t Apply

These are just a few of the questions I increasingly hear from parents across the country:

  • How can I get my child to not go to midweek concerts when almost everyone else in the school is going?
  • It’s one thing to tell my kids not to drink and drive, but how can I stop them from texting while they’re driving?
  • With all the bullying that goes on in schools, should I insist that my kids delete their online profiles?
  • You tell us that we should limit screen time, but how can we when half of their homework in elementary school is done online?
  • When my preteen son calls me from anywhere on his phone, how can I be certain he’s really where he says he is?

On top of losing faith in a secure future, mothers and fathers deal with everyday dilemmas that make a joke of traditional parenting rules and childrearing practices.

Unfortunately many therapists still seem to believe that reliable solutions to the problems families face can be readily found in our psychodynamic, family, or standard evidence-based protocols. The rampant “medicalization of childhood” doesn’t instill parental confidence, either.

As recently as five years ago, most parents had only a vague sense of the acronyms and terminology used every day in our work. Now ADD, AD/HD, PDD, ODD, spectrum disorders, Asperger’s, and bipolar I and II roll off parents’ lips so easily you’d think you were at grand rounds in a teaching hospital.

By the time kids are 18, at least half of them have already received a psychological diagnosis. While many mothers and fathers have become psychological sleuths, searching their child’s behavior for any sign of disorder, others still cling to the traditional parenting belief that the only thing wrong with kids is a lack of discipline.

Fifteen-year-old Serena can’t settle down at night. Her mind hurtles between anxiety, excitement, and unbridled enthusiasm. In a reversal of the usual sleep-wake patterns, she’s awake all night, sleeps until early afternoon, and misses entire days; as a result, she’s fallen dramatically behind in school.

She’s had so many diagnoses it seems inevitable that she’d eventually receive a bipolar II label and several trials of medication. But it’s more complicated than that—she’s also a hypertexter, and has been the object of intense peer attention, keeping her involved in text interactions that never cease. She can’t stop reacting physically or emotionally to her phone. Is this a true bipolar disorder, an acquired difficulty in affect-regulation triggered by the warp-speed electronic world she inhabits, or both?

Serena’s parents were skeptical about the bipolar diagnosis. They were fed up with the judgmental attitude of clinicians who intimated that Serena’s problems were due to traditional parenting issues like “poor hierarchy” in the family, along with their expectations that she could just be ordered to give up her tech lifelines cold turkey.

Like others who’d had it with the parent-blaming diagnostic merry-go-round so prevalent today, Serena’s parents decided to take matters into their own hands. Having had their fill of traditional parenting mental-health interventions, they opted to explore alternative approaches to diagnosis and healing—meditation, biofeedback, homeopathy, yoga, cranial-sacral therapy, and exercise and diet regimens.

The combination settled Serena down some and increased her parents’ confidence. Their daughter began easing into an alternative school program that made more slowly escalating demands. As a therapist, I soon learned to respect her mom and dad’s skepticism about what the school system and traditional parenting techniques had to offer.

IMAGE Pexel/Phil Nguyen

Ron Taffel

Ron Taffel, PhD, is Chair, Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy in NYC, the author of eight books and over 100 articles on therapy and family life.