Reluctant to deny their children anything, parents cave in to demands for cellphones, flexible curfews and freedom from surveillance. "What used to be privileges have now become rights."
The California-based self-esteem movement was another blow to authoritative parenting, says Steven Hughes, a pediatric neuropsychologist at the University of Minnesota.
When pundits blamed low self-esteem for everything from alcoholism to teenage pregnancy, parents and teachers went overboard to praise kids, regardless of their talents or efforts. Parents then set out to convince the world that their child was exceptional.
"What we have is at least a generation of parents who are absolutely unmoored from their instincts," says Dr. Hughes, who gives talks on the subject throughout North America.
Not all parents have become human jellyfish, though.
Deanna Dahlsad, a mother of three in Fargo, N.D., says she frowns on parents who "prize their children kind of like begonias or pets."
Her own parents had firm boundaries and presented a united front, an approach she takes with her own children, says Ms. Dahlsad, who writes for online publications.
In a post titled "Permissive Parents, Stop Ruining Your Children," Ms. Dahlsad blogged about "lazy parents" who defend their kids' right to run amok in shopping centres or rummage through doctors' offices.
"I was kind of surprised my post didn't get more hate mail," she says.
Building self-esteem doesn't mean ensuring a child is happy all the time, or free to do as he or she pleases, Dr. Mamen says.
Parents need to set limits with their children and let them discover they are capable of solving problems even when they don't get what they want.
"We are a hierarchical species," she says. "It's our job
as the adults to guide children and essentially train them to be self-sufficient adults who can form good relationships."
Mothers and fathers of children with behavioural problems are relieved when she urges them to stand up to their kids, she adds: It's never too late to grow a backbone.
Quiz: Are you a backbone parent?
What's your parenting style? Take our quiz to see how you rate.
1. Your daughter didn't eat dinner and now demands a snack before bed. Do you:
A) Let her choose what to eat (it's great that she's in touch with her body's needs)
B) Refuse a snack and say "that's what you get for not eating dinner"
C) Give her a choice between two healthy snacks and remind her to eat more dinner next time
2. Your teenager returns your car with an empty gas tank. Do you:
A) Tell him he should fill it up (but you'll take care of it this time because he has a test to study for)
B) Yell at him for being irresponsible, then take away his car privileges
C) Tell him to drive to the gas station pronto and warn him that next time, he'll have to wash and vacuum the car too
3. Your five-year-old daughter is tantrumming while getting dressed for a birthday party. Do you:
A) Let her wear her favourite pink nightie - after all, it's a special occasion
B) Make her wear the green velvet dress from grandma "or you're not going to the party"
C) Lay out a few acceptable outfits and let her choose
4. Your two-year-old is pulling things off the supermarket shelves. Do you:
A) Admire his creativity and let other shoppers wheel their carts around his sculpture of tomato soup cans
B) Seize the child and threaten to put him in a "time out" if he doesn't stop touching things
C) Show him how to put the cans back, then involve him in helping you carry the cans you need
5. Your six-year-old daughter is on a rampage at a restaurant. Do you:
A) Wolf down your meal so you can get her out of there quick
B) Grab by the arm and threaten to take her toys away when you get home
C) Remind her about table manners and if she won't settle down, have someone wait with her outside
6. Your four-year-old points at a stranger on the bus and says "he smells!" Do you:
A) Whisper in his ear "I know, honey" (he's speaking the truth and you want him to be authentic)
B) Tell him to shut his mouth "and don't say another word until we get off the bus"
C) Explain that it's not polite to say mean things about others, and ask him to apologize
If your answers tend to be A, your parenting may be on the soft side.
If B describes your usualy MO, you could stand to loosen your grip.
If you chose mostly C answers, you tend to be a backbone parent who sets limits without squelching your kid's spirit.