Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Terrible Twos... And Threes...In Perpetuity

But if you try some time, you just might find, you get what you need

John Rosemond, the least favorite parenting authority of the ADHD/Pediatric Bipolar apologist crowd, wrote a wickedly excellent newspaper column that appeared in my local paper on May 3 of this year.  I hope he does not mind if I quote from it liberally.

Somebody wrote to him inquiring about a four year old who continued to throw temper tantrums when he could not have or do something he wanted.  The writer thought that four years old seemed a bit old for this type of behavior, which is referred to in the vernacular as the “terrible two’s.”  As in: two years olds.

John Rosemond

Dr. Rosemond noted that until recently, such temper tantrums were rare after a toddler’s third birthday.  Only during the last two generations has that changed.  He defines the “terrible two’s syndrome” quite clearly and concisely: tantrums, belligerent defiance, persistent impulsivity, and separation anxiety.

Sounds a lot like the new bulls**t diagnosis for children that was proposed for the upcoming edition of the psychiatric profession’s diagnostic manual, the DSM-5, called temper dysregulation disorder.  (I think the proposal has been dropped, but it may have just been renamed.  We’ll see).

Rosemond blames the recent prolongation of toddlerhood on parents who keep their kids at the center of their attention “in perpetuity,” and on the parents' enabling behavior.  He defines the latter as “doing for children what they are capable of doing for themselves, however imperfectly.” As a further result of these changes in parenting philosophy, American society is now saddled with “large numbers of perpetually dependent children” who “don’t cope well with the realities of life."

Central to these realities is neglect of what Dr. Rosemond cleverly refers to as the “Mick Jagger Principle:” You can’t always get what you want.

Another very important point that he makes in his column is that the enabling parents are actually victims themselves.  He states that there is tremendous peer pressure on parents to “enter into co-dependent relationships with their kids, and be constantly stressed, anxious, and guilt-ridden as a consequence.” I wrote extensively about the explosion of parental guilt and the peer pressure that reinforces it in my book, How Dysfunctional Families Spur Mental Disorder. But I have also experienced the peer pressure first hand.

When one of my children was in college, she decided to take advantage of a “study abroad” program offered by the college, and spent a semester in Australia. In those days, internet connections were not up to what they are now, and overseas telephone calls were still relatively expensive.  

There was something around called a “phone card.”  This pre-paid card allowed the person who bought it a certain limited number of minutes to spend talking on the phone.  We gave our daughter one card for each month she was to be in Australia.

Of course, she used up the first card in less than two weeks, and was then upset that she could not call us.  She was, no surprise, experiencing a bit of loneliness. 

Well, when we mentioned this turn of events to a couple of our friends, they pounced on us with surprising ferocity.  What was the matter with us?  Why did we not just give her another card?  We could afford it.  Our daughter was lonely, and how could we just let her suffer like that.  We were just terrible!  Neglecting our parental duties! 

Listening to them, you would have thought we had just hired Ivan the Terrible to travel to Australia and impale her.

Gee, loneliness.  How awful!  How unendurable!  A bit shell shocked, we nonetheless stood our ground.  The ability to delay gratification is a very useful skill to develop, and we wanted our daughter to be able to learn to do just that.

I remember when I first went off to college.  There were some days when I was very lonely – even somewhat depressed.

I was barely 17, away from my family for the first time, and 400 miles away from my high school sweetheart as well.  I was also in a very strange and unsettling (but fascinating) new world:  Berkeley, 1966-1967, at the height of the Haight-Ashbury hippie days, before the hippies had been discovered by the media.  

Furthermore, almost all of the college girls I had contact with were older than me. (In those days, not only were cougars unheard of, but most girls would not date a guy so much as one day younger than them.) And girls were outnumbered almost two to one by the boys.  

And in those days, we didn’t call home at all, because long distance calls were expensive.  We actually wrote letters.  Snail mail.  Getting replies took days or longer.

Well, I somehow survived.  And I wouldn’t trade that year for anything.  Watching the Grateful Dead for free in Golden Gate Park before they had recorded their first record.  Watching Jim Morrison invent diving into the crowd from the stage at a Doors concert.  Dancing to the Jefferson Airplane, live, at the Fillmore Auditorium.  And we had to hitchhike across the Bay Bridge to get there because none of us had a car.  My parents would never have let me do that back at home.  Priceless.


  1. Geez, Dr. Allen, I would never have taken you for an old hippie.

    Is saying "no" really that difficult for contemporary parents? I was in a store recently, a child was carrying on about something, and his mother said "No, you get what you get."

    That seemed a very constructive response to me.

    1. I was more of an observer of the hippies than an actual participant. It seems that I didn't conform enough to their "non-conformity" to suit their taste.

      Thankfully, some parents today are still like the one you saw in that store.

  2. :) You know...I get what your saying. And I do think that there is way too much overparenting these days. I'm in my 20s and I feel that way about teenagers and middle schoolers that I have come into contact with. I feel like they have been infantilized by their parents. It's actually a little strange for me, because I knew their parents when I was a kid (before the parents had their own kids). And I feel like their standard of maturity was really high for me when I was growing up, but they have really low standards for their own kids...

    But I also know that if you were to look at me, you would probably think that I haven't matured as fast as you did in your 20s. And I'm sure your parents or grandparents thought you didn't grow up as fast as them. I think it's just natural for newer generations to grow up slower.

    1. It may be normal in today's culture, but not natural. In my practice, I see couples now who have not only raised (and enabled) their own kids and grandkids, but great grandchildren as well. What will happen when they're gone?

  3. I raised three children who are now all successful adults: a pharmacist, an international businessman, and a political science major who is a budding lawyer. We homeschooled - and thank God it worked - LOL! I followed Dr. R. over the years, and the recurrent theme was "logical consequences". It worked then, and I'm certain it would work now for these young parents. PS-My years as a flower child (in Hawaii during the late 60's) was a time to explore the accepted status quo and to question the Vietnam War. Nonconformity comes in the questioning, I think.

  4. Keeping kids at the center of parents attention all the time is very difficult, But we must try as best we can to get them under control and not leave them to their own liking, without interference from time to time, I think that raising children is the hardest thing facing parents especially in these days .