• An Arizona high school student flunks her senior English class after plagiarizing a term paper, receiving an F on her final exam and failing to show up for a make-up session for a botched assignment. Told that their daughter will not be allowed to graduate with her friends, her parents threaten to sue the teacher and school district.

  • The American Medical Association releases a startling report on underage drinking, indicating that a large percentage of kids who drink get the booze from their own parents. The AMA study found that one in four U.S. teens reported attending a party where alcohol was served with parents present.

  • ABC-TV’s reality show Supernanny spotlights the real-life travails of hapless moms and dads terrorized by their own children – pint-sized tyrants who kick them, punch them, swear at them and hold them as prisoners in their own home.

In case you hadn’t noticed, North America has a parenting problem. The evidence of this parenting deficit can be found at your local supermarket, fast-food restaurant or high school parking lot – spoiled, selfish, out-of-control kids with no concept of right or wrong.

While many aspects of our culture are harmful to children, I’m particularly alarmed by the rise of what I call "pushover parents." These parents are either unable or unwilling to place limits on their children’s behaviour – even behaviour that is unhealthy, dangerous or destructive. They are so concerned with being liked by their kids that they give in to their children’s every whim.

This neglect has a ripple effect. Even if you are doing a great job of raising responsible kids, your children’s lives are still influenced by this unfortunate trend. Their world is inhabited by kids raised by pushover parents – think bully, dishonest classmate, abusive boyfriend or girlfriend.

The root of the problem

What turns parents into pushovers? The root causes include:

  • Wrong thinking. Many parents today believe they have no right to impose their beliefs on their children. They heed the advice of secular parenting gurus who preach that children are brimming with innate goodness and should be allowed to create their own values. Such humanistic advice denies the fact that all of us are inclined toward selfishness and self-deception.

  • Guilt. When Mom and Dad are both professionals working 50 to 60 hours per week, their children may spend the majority of their early years in daycare. Because these parents are physically and emotionally unavailable to their kids, parents may feel tremendous guilt. To assuage this guilt, they often find it impossible to say no.

  • Copycat or reactive parenting. Many adults today were raised by parents influenced by the permissive "reject all authority" mantra of the 1960s. As a result, they never learned the importance of setting appropriate limits. Conversely, individuals who grew up with harsh, authoritarian parents may reject any form of child discipline. They vow, "I’m never going to treat my kids the way I was treated."

  • Divorce and single parenting. Contentious divorces and child-custody disputes can turn parents into pushovers. In order to be seen as the "favourite parent," a mom or dad may spoil the kids. Single parents can fall into the trap of looking to their children to meet their own emotional needs. As a result, they may fail to enforce limits for fear that their kids won’t like them.

Don’t be a doormat

How can we avoid becoming pushover parents? We can begin by recognizing that our children are a blessing from God, and with that blessing comes an awesome responsibility. Children who fail to experience consequences for misbehaviour typically grow up to become selfish, narcissistic adults who leave a trail of broken relationships in their wake.

If you believe you might be a pushover parent, ask your spouse and friends to give you feedback – and give them permission to be honest. If you’re a single parent, ask yourself if you look to your kids for comfort and fear their disapproval. If so, ask God to help you develop close, nurturing friendships with adults – friends who will support you in your role as a single mom or dad.

By balancing love and limits, you can help your kids grow into healthy, godly adults who – as they become moms and dads – will break the destructive cycle of pushover parenting.

Dr. Bill Maier was psychologist-in-residence at Focus on the Family in the U.S. at the time of publication and the host of the Weekend Magazine radio program.

© 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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