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(Lyle Stafford)
(Lyle Stafford)

Are you raising a bratty kid? Add to ...

Okay, parents, here's a pop quiz. Say you're at the sandbox and your two-year-old bops another toddler on the head. You tell him not to. He does it again.

Do you a) apologize to the kid's mom and explain that your son is teething/overstimulated/going through a tough developmental stage, then offer your little guy a snack to calm him down?

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Or b) pull your son from the play area and tell him that if he hits again, he will be strapped into his stroller and taken home?

If you answered (a), your parenting style follows the prevailing trend of the past couple decades.

If you chose (b), however, you may be part of a backlash against what some experts call indulgent childrearing.

Soft parenting has created a generation of spoiled brats, according to Maggie Mamen, author of The Pampered Child Syndrome: How to Recognize It, How to Manage It, and How to Avoid It.

Holy terrors and their lax parents are disturbing the peace in airports and restaurants, grocery stores and schools, she says.

The Ottawa-based psychologist treats children diagnosed with depression, anxiety, attention-deficit disorder and behavioural problems. In many cases, Dr. Mamen says, her patients are not suffering from actual mental disorders - they're showing the effects of spineless parenting.

"There are parents who will not say no to their child because they truly believe this is bad for their child to hear."

Marshmallow parents produce amoral children, according to American psychiatrist Robert Shaw, author of The Epidemic: The Rot of American Culture, Absentee and Permissive Parenting, and the Resultant Plague of Joyless, Selfish Children. In the book, Dr. Shaw attributes even the 1999 Columbine High School massacre to permissive parenting. Compared to the plague of insolent, narcissistic children he describes, swine flu looks like the common cold.

Nevertheless, there are signs that "no-nonsense" discipline strategies are being revived.

Parents are tuning in to reality shows such as Nanny 911 to see modern-day governesses whip unruly broods into shape. Others are searching for tips in books such as The Rules of Parenting by Richard Templar and Loving Without Spoiling: And 100 Other Timeless Tips for Raising Terrific Kids by Nancy Samalin .

Meanwhile, media outlets are publishing headline-grabbing research on the benefits of tough love.

Children raised with a balance of warmth and discipline are more likely to be empathetic and able to regulate their emotions and complete tasks, according to a recent survey of 9,000 families in Britain.

Researchers from Boston University have found that kids who receive both love and clear limits from their parents are less likely to be overweight when they start school than those with permissive or domineering parents.

And data from a 20-year study of Minnesotan twins suggest that even if children of firm yet loving parents break the rules, they are more likely to assume leadership positions later in life than those raised with other parenting styles.

Nevertheless, advocates of a more democratic approach say that children learn interdependence by having a say in family life. The need for rigid rules may disappear when troubling behaviour is seen as a problem to be solved together, rather than as an infraction that must be punished, says Alfie Kohn, author of Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community.

"Your child needs a human being - flawed, caring and vulnerable - more than he or she needs someone pretending to be a crisply competent Perfect Parent," he writes.

But Dr. Mamen insists that children need to know who's boss.

As their offices fill up with sullen, self-entitled youth, she and other child psychologists are calling for a return to the parenting model championed by Diana Baumrind in the 1960s.

Dr. Baumrind came up with the notion of three parenting styles: authoritarian (too hard), permissive (too soft) and authoritative (just right).

Older parents may recognize them as the brick-wall, jellyfish and backbone parents popularized by Barbara Coloroso in her bestselling book Kids Are Worth It.

While the model is hardly new, parenting with a firm grip fell out of favour in the 1980s and 1990s.

In many households, the values rooted in the United Nations 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child were taken too far, Dr. Mamen says.

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