The Collapse of Parenting, by Leonard Sax MD (Book Review Pedcast)

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The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-Ups

Topic Introduction

Doc Smo here. I have an exciting new pedcast for you today, a book review pedcast, that I hope will get you revved up to read and digest a new parenting book by Dr. Leonard Sax, a family doctor and clinical psychology. The book is called The Collapse of Parenting, and I must say that I think you will find it quite thought provoking. This is first of Dr. Sax’s book I have read and after reading it, I am excited to get his other books, Boys Adrift and Girls on the Edge. More on these in future pedcasts.

Musical Introduction

Doc Smo’s Book Review

Here is a quick list of some of the problems Dr. Sax sees with current parenting practices in the U.S., as outlined in The Collapse of Parenting:

  1. Parents are failing to teach a culture of respect to children.
  2. Parents are treating their children like adults rather than children; consequently parents are having difficulty setting effective limits for their children.
  3. Today’s American children are more fragile physically and psychologically than children have been in the past.
  4. Attention and mood problems in children have become very common among U.S. children, as has the use of psychoactive medications
  5. Far more children have low motivation and drive than in previous generations.
  6. On world standards, American children are falling behind in intelligence, creativity, and performance.

The Collapse of Parenting presents a scathing view of American child rearing.  Dr. Sax gives each of these topics a fairly lengthy discussion, reinforcing his conclusions with references, studies, and statistics. He has done his homework and I think he makes convincing arguments that many children in the U.S. are different today than in children in past generations with regards to the issues he discusses in this book.  Dr. Sax has produced a well-written, well annotated, and well-edited book in The Collapse of Parenting. His style of writing is interesting and I think his readers will enjoy the many anecdotes that he tells. He effectively uses his combined experience of being both a family doctor and psychologist, to give the book a unique dual perspective: strong on psychological insight but not ignoring the changing physical nature of childhood. Readers will feel his passion and dedication to his subject.


As a rule, I give my highest ratings and recommendations to parenting books that spot important trends in parenting or give parents practical information and skills that can be transformative for their family life. I feel that The Collapse of Parenting is one of these books.  Dr. Sax effectively presents a rebuttal to some of the more popular recent parenting fads  “Attachment Parenting” and “Let’s Boost a Child’s Self Esteem with Praise” movements without ever mentioning their names. At the same time, Dr. Sax validates the predictions psychologist, Dr. David Elkind, foresaw problems coming, in his 1989 book, The Hurried Child.  If you ask me, The Hurried Child and The Collapse of Parenting, should be on every parent’s reading list.  They both contain wisdom and insights that every parent will benefit from.

Dr. Sax is pretty rough on contemporary American parents and to be fair to today’s parents, society, parenting, family life, technology, and the pace of life, has dramatically changed in the past two generations. To some degree, it may not be fair to judge the performance of today’s parents on benchmarks of the past since today’s families are being presented with a very different world than the one that existed fifty years ago.  That being said, I think Dr. Sax has presented a compelling argument that some changes are needed in the way parents treat their children in America today.


Overall, Dr. Sax has made insightful observations about today’s children and parents. I do think that The Collapse of Parenting falls short in a few respects however. First, while Dr. Sax did an excellent job of describing the problems parents are having today, I feel he didn’t offer enough corrective, useful advice.  Based on page volume, Dr. Sax spent 71% of The Collapse of Parenting on convincing his readers that there are problems with today’s children and only 29% offering solutions. His advice seemed like an afterthought to me, leaving this reader wanting more detail, dialogue, and guidance.   Secondly, I feel that Dr. Sax implied that the increase diagnosis of ADHD, to a large degree, is a manifestation of sleep deprivation. I think this is incorrect. While sleep deprivation does induce ADHD behavior in children, I do not think the majority of children with ADHD have sleep deprivation as the proximate cause of their behavior.  No, it is much more complex than that.  I feel that the skyrocketing rate of ADHD is a manifestation of increased pressure on parents for their children to perform academically, society’s insistence on setting developmentally inappropriate expectations for young children,  the influence of electronic media on children, and a lack of patience in our society to allow children to mature at their own rate.  And finally and most importantly, Dr. Sax does not address the reason parenting has collapsed in America– the collapse of the family. How can we have a conversation about the shortfalls of parents without including a conversation about family structure? Single parent households, joint custody parenting, and blended families are part of why we are witnessing so much of the weak parenting.   As a practicing pediatrician, I too, see much of what Dr. Sax is talking about but fortunately, I really don’t think it has become the norm in America.   Dr. Sax has started a very interesting and needed conversation about American children, families, and childhood in America.  I give The Collapse of Parenting 4.75 out of 5 Doc Smo Stars.  If you are a parent, I recommend you get yourself a copy and read it carefully.  Until next time.