Parents, Kids and Behavior Today

Dr. Robert Melillo

Parents, Kids and Behavior Today

“The state of your life is no more than a reflection of your state of mind.” Dr. Wayne Dyer

Parenting is tough. In fact, I’d venture to say that this is the hardest time in history to be a parent. I speak from experience, both as a professional specializing in childhood behavior and learning disorders and as a dad. I’ve looked at this objectively from a neurological point of view and I am convinced that previous generations can’t even imagine what it is like to be a parent today. 

These are unprecedented times and parents today are dealing with unprecedented issues. Depression, anxiety, obesity, diabetes and suicide among children and teens was practically unheard of in past generations but are getting uncomfortably too common today.

During the last two decades we have witnessed an alarming and dramatic rise in childhood behavioral disorders, not only in this country but throughout the world. Autism, which was considered a rare disorder 20 years ago, is rapidly on the rise and showing no signs of abating. It is now estimated that 1 out of every 91 children born today in the United States will be diagnosed with autism. Just a few years ago, it was 1 in 150. These are staggering statistics by any stretch of the imagination. The statistics for attention deficient/hyperactive disorder (ADHD) are even more shocking. It is now the leading childhood disorder in the United States and throughout the world,affecting 6-to-9 percent of all U.S. children. 

A recent study conducted by researchers in Denmark found that other behavioral disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder and Tourette syndrome, are rising at approximately the same rate as autism.

Learning disorders are also mounting. An estimated 15 percent of school-age kids have trouble reading or spelling, a disorder called dyslexia, which was once considered rare.   Another 7 percent struggle so hard to do math there’s an official name for it — dyscalculia and it’s considered a neurological disorder. Put it all together and we can conservatively say that 20-25 percent of all children — approximately 14 to 17.5 million kids in the United States — are affected by some form of behavior or learning problem. Most experts agree that it is only expected to get worse. 

Boys, it appears, are being hit the hardest. Three out of every four children with autism is a boy. One out of ever 38 boys born today will have autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And ADHD affects approximately 4 to 6 times as many boys than girls. Boys appear to be extremely immature. They are also less motivated than girls. While girls are excelling in sports, school and socially, boys are lagging behind. For the first time in history, there are more girls graduating from college and getting athletic scholarships.

These facts and statistics are creating a new source of anxiety for parents. [

WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH KIDS TODAY

  Poor and inappropriate behavior is not isolated to kids with neurological disorders. Most of the bad behavior you witness in kids today has nothing to do with an organic problem, either mental or physical. They are just badly behaved kids. At least kids with neurological conditions have a reason for their behavior problems: they can’t help it! The rest are created by circumstances within parental control. Yet statistics show that 80 percent of today’s parents complain about their kids’ behavior and lack of motivation. And they aren’t the only ones complaining.

Teachers who have been working in the school system for 20 years or more say that today’s children and adolescents are harder to control, show less respect for authority figures, are less physically active, have shorter attention spans, get poorer grades, and overall are generally unmotivated. They eat poorly, don’t exercise, and are addicted to their computers, cell phones and I-pods. Teachers say kids today feel entitled; they expect everything should be handed to them. 

The impact of all this is having a boomerang effect on parents. In previous generations, when you graduated from high school you went to college, joined the military or got a job, you left home to start out on your own and didn’t come back to live with Mom and Dad. Census figures today show that kids are returning home after college and many of them settle in indefinitely. 

 Sure, the economy plays a role, but the economy has nothing to do with the bigger issue: the general malaise and lack of motivation and maturity we are seeing in so many children today. It’s like they want to stay kids forever, like Peter Pan. (I call it Peter Pan Problem and you’ll be hearing more about this later). 

Then there’s the growing problem of our “growing” kids. Statistics show that 32 percent of kids in the United States are overweight, including 16.3 percent who are obese. In the last thirty years, obesity among kids ages 6-11 jumped from 4 percent to 17 percent.   And it is taking its toll on children’s health.

Studies show one in four overweight children are showing early signs of type II diabetes (impaired glucose tolerance), what used to be called adult-onset diabetes, and 60 percent already have one major risk factor for heart disease. Just two decades ago type 2 diabetes was completely unheard of in children and many believed it was impossible.

WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH PARENTS TODAY

The typical family lifestyle has made a dramatic change in the last 20 years and, from a neurological point of view, not for the better. It has affected children’s physical and mental health and social, emotional and cognitive development. And what an odd caricature it makes: Young bodies with older people’s health problem and minds that are immature and undeveloped in many areas functioning. 

When I was growing up, parents believed it was necessary for children to struggle a little, that it built character. Today’s parents hate to see their children struggle at all. They want to give them everything. Parents get upset if their child is cut from a sport’s team. In some communities, they don’t keep score so there are no losers and kids won’t feel bad. From a neurological perspective, this only produces children who don’t learn and understand the value of hard work. They don’t know that life doesn’t just hand you things. You have to get out there and make things happen.

Children need to experience winning and losing because life consists of winners and losers. They need to figure out how to be a winner, how to be a success. Being a winner requires motivation and self-reliance, yet today’s kids are more unmotivated than any time in history. 

When kids are given everything they want, they don’t learn to provide for themselves. It breeds insecurity and immaturity. As they grow up, children start to feel they could never provide for themselves the life their parents have given them, and they’d rather move back in with Mom and Dad than struggle and do without until they can make it on their own. They’re not grown up because they didn’t learn how to grow up — and now they don’t want to grow up. They become classic Peter Pans. 

Ask any teacher what’s wrong with kids today and most likely you’ll get the same answer I hear from teachers all the time: the parents!

When I speak to older people and grandparents I often hear them talking about how different parenting is today. I observe it myself almost daily in our Brain Balance centers. This is not the “wait till your father gets home” generation, where kids faced being in as much trouble at home if they created trouble in school. Not these days. Too many parents today blindly believe that their kids can do no wrong. Rather, it is the teacher, the coach, the system or somebody else at fault. 

It is incongruous that today’s parents are more involved in their children’s lives than any other generation, yet so many — especially the most well-meaning and best-intentioned parents — are oblivious to their children’s poor behavior, bad habits and lack of motivation. I find they choose not to see it because they are just too busy. After all, they rationalize, they can’t do everything! Besides, all kids are “like that,” they say. They see the current status quo as “normal.” Only the  perception of what’s normal has become skewed.  

A study reported in the medical journal Canadian Family Physician is a case in point. For the study, parents asked the parents of a group of school children what they considered their kids’ weight to be for their age: normal,  underweight, overweight, or obese. Sixty-three percent of parents of overweight children said their kids were normal weight; 15 percent of parents of obese children classified them as being overweight;and 22 percent of parents of normal-weight children incorrectly stated they were underweight.

Some parents aren’t exactly good role models, either. Today’s adults are the most overweight, unhealthy, stressed out, depressed and unmotivated group of adults in history. Statistics show that an estimated 66 percent of American adults are overweight or obese and the majority are parents with children at home. Half of them are obese.  Also, 59 percent report that they get no physical exercise.  Since 1990, there has been a 76 percent increase in the incidence of type 2 diabetes in adults between ages 30 and 40.

 On top of that the incidence of ADHD, depression, anxiety, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases, and a number of serious mental illnesses like psychosis are all increasing at epidemic levels in United States. Here’s the kicker and the undeniable reality: Whatever affects the parents impacts the children. This is why it comes as no surprise that we see these or similar disorders rising in our children. As the saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

You are your child’s role model. If you’re overweight, unhealthy, sedentary, and unhappy chances are your children will be, too. You’re setting your children up in a negative environment, which you’ll learn as you read more of this book, is detrimental to the health of growing young minds.

Parents can’t be blamed for the poor behavior displayed by a child with a neurological problem. Neither can the child. The bad behavior is caused by a brain imbalance. However, if you have a child who is physically and mentally healthy but acts badly, you have to examine your parenting skills and the example your own behavior and actions are setting for your child. If you don’t change, you can’t expect your child to change.