“When it comes to raising kids, there are very few clear-cut rights and wrongs,” says Psychiatrist Alex Strauss of Marlton, NJ. “Still, there are definitely instances when you might be engaging in bad parenting.”
Here are 10 of the most common “Am I a Bad Dad…?” scenarios that Dr. Strauss is asked about, followed by his insights and analysis.
Am I Bad Dad If…
1. I Don’t Enjoy Spending Time With My Kids
Not always wanting to spend time with your kids is part of being a normal parent and is nothing to feel guilty about. For many parents, spending time with kids can be boring, frustrating and even annoying. However, if you find that it’s happening more and more, consider what kind of time you’re spending with your kids. Often, you’re only able to do the mandatory tasks, like getting them up for school (frustrating), preparing nightly dinner (boring) and getting them to bed on time (annoying). And then on weekends perhaps you have to run errands (boring, annoying and frustrating). The fix? Take some time to do enjoyable activities such as reading books, watching movies or just playing together on the living room floor. You’re allowed to just “chill” with your child – in fact, it’s what you should be doing.
Verdict: You’re not a bad dad at all, it’s a common feeling. Try to relax the reins and hang out with your child the way you would a friend.
2. I Solve All Their Problems For Them (The Helicopter Parent)
Would you believe that at Boston University, one father was so upset over his daughter’s A-minus final grade that he called the professor to complain, and then the department chair, and then the academic dean? Yes, it’s true, the helicopter parent doesn’t only exist on the playground — it can and does occur in middle school, high school, college and even graduate school. And while it’s great to be an advocate for your kids, at some point you need to let them take ownership of their life. For instance, if your child isn’t happy about the amount of playing time he or she is getting in a certain sport, instead of you talking to the coach, encourage your child to do so. Having them ask the coach what they can improve on allows them to take the initiative.
Verdict: While helicopter parenting is a natural instinct, it’s important to let your child experience life’s failures and disappointment.
3. I’ve Hit Them
You want to teach your child a lesson, and either because that’s how you were raised, or because you feel like it works…you spank them. You’re not alone. Spanking is quite common, and up to 90% of parents do it. But unfortunately, it is a poor use of your parenting energy. Research shows that spanking is an ineffective method of discipline that leads to an increased risk of aggression. Personally, I think of it as a short-term solution to a long-term problem. The child you can hit now and scare into doing what you want will one day be older and potentially larger than you. Spanking will no longer work then and if you haven’t figured out an effective parenting technique you will not be able to discipline your adolescent. What you should be engaged in is “positive discipline” throughout their development, which you can read about here in Positively Discipline Your Kids. Physical abuse, however, is a different story and is not acceptable. It is generally described as a physical act that results in harm. It can include hitting, punching, burning, switches, etc. It should never be done and if done to a child, it would be deemed bad parenting. There are many therapists that can help support parents in learning effective parenting techniques to avoid both spanking and physical abuse.
Verdict: Hitting your child is a poor discipline technique that parents use out of their own anger more than anything else. Seek other methods of positive discipline which are far, far more effective.
4. I Take Prescription Drugs Just To Make It Through The Day
As a doctor, I believe it’s important that you take the necessary drugs for your health. That’s a great example of putting on your own oxygen mask first before you can help your child. But this question could also mean that you’re inappropriately taking prescription drugs like Xanax to numb your “pain” and make it through the day. In that case, it would likely be better for you to seek help with a combination of appropriate therapy and medication if needed, not to “numb” you out but to take care of the true issue at hand.
Verdict: If you are working with a medical professional, you are being a good parent by taking care of yourself.
5. I Let Them Eat Whatever They Want
Although on the wane, childhood obesity is still an epidemic in our country. We now have plenty of clear evidence that there is healthy eating and unhealthy eating. Yes, anything can be eaten in moderation to make up a balanced diet. But just like everything else in parenting, setting limits is the key. If you just let your kids eat “whatever” they want and they make poor choices, it’s on you and you’re demonstrating bad parenting. If you want more information about proper diet and exercise, look no further than Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign. (Here’s a hint: the Donut Hamburger above shouldn’t be on the menu). Also remember that just as important as a balanced diet are things like portion control and exercise.
Verdict: If your child suffers from poor dietary habits, you have a responsibility to help them learn to eat healthily.
6. I Don’t Like Who They Hang Out With
I’d try to stay away from judging any of your child’s friends. If there’s someone you don’t particularly like, I would call out the bad behavior but not the child by name. For example, after observing and spending time with their friends, sit down and talk to your children about the good behaviors and the bad behaviors you observed. Also, talk about the qualities of a good friend and what makes someone a peer that’s not a good friend. All of this can be done without actually naming someone. You have to be careful not to place “bans” on people, because kids inevitably will find banned things more attractive and then find sneaky ways to seek these people out.
Verdict: Having strong feelings about your child’s friends is perfectly normal and expected, and not bad parenting. Just be careful to keep from sharing any ‘personal’ judgments.
7. I Let Them Get Tattoos Or Piercings (Under 18 They Need Adult Permission)
Do we know before the age of 18 what we want when we’re 25, 45, 65? I would say most of us do not. The idea of allowing a young girl to get her ears pierced seems quite culturally acceptable, and the holes may close if not used. But tattoos or large piercings are more likely to be permanent. If kids can’t decide day-to-day about what to wear and what they’re into, should parents support them permanently changing their body? Another option may be to compromise by using a long lasting temporary tattoo.
Verdict: Why help them rush to make a permanent decision? If they still want the tattoo or piercing when they are legally responsible for themselves, they can do it then.
8. Their Grades Are Terrible
It can be really hard when your children aren’t doing well in school, especially if you had expectations that they would pass each grade with flying colors. This is a great time to step in and be an advocate for your kids. First, you should find out from your child and the school why they are failing. Then, work with your child, the teachers and perhaps outside supports (such as tutoring) to help them improve. Many children struggle in school due to learning issues, mental illness and other causes which are treatable and should be addressed as soon as possible.
Verdict: It doesn’t make you a bad parent if your kids aren’t doing well in school… but you should not sit idly by and let them fail. This is a situation where you should step up and be pro-active in your child’s life.
9. I Drink Or Smoke Weed Every Night
I assume you aren’t drinking water, but if you are the recommendation is about 9 cups per day according to the Mayo Clinic. I assume you mean alcohol, in which case there’s nothing really wrong with a drink a day. In fact the National Institute for Health indicates low-risk drinking is equivalent to no more than 3 drinks per day and 7 drinks per week, so 1 per day would be completely reasonable. Often, however, people who are drinking each night are drinking to change the way they think or feel. If you “need” a drink each night that could be concerning. It would likely make sense to evaluate why you need a drink and how it may be affecting your life and the life of your children.
As far as marijuana, I would consider this similar to the discussion on alcohol. Multiple states have legalized weed so it’s casual use as a parent is very debatable. At the same time I don’t think that the National Institute on Drug Abuse has come up with a “low-risk” amount. In fact, they indicate that marijuana is associated with increased absences, tardiness, accidents, etc. As a rule of thumb, the more dangerous, addictive and costly the drug, the greater the risk of it’s impact on one’s life and one’s children. If your drinking or marijuana use is getting in the way of your life or affecting those around you, you may need help.
Verdict: What kind of use? Casual is okay, but chronic use is an addiction that should be treated before it negatively affects you, your spouse or your children.
10. I Let Them Have Unlimited Screen Time
Screen time can be a wonderful thing: there are many movies, TV shows and apps that are both educational and fun. However, as the saying goes, “Too much of anything can be harmful” and screen time is at the top of that list. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 2 hours per day, however recently they have considered increasing this as a result of the reality in the world today. Instead of focusing on a number, though, instead think about all the other things they could be doing in life. Getting your kids off the screens and engaged in the real world to socialize, exercise, read, eat, play, explore and use their imaginations will pay dividends…. for them and for you.
Verdict: It’s your job to limit screen time and allow your children to expand their horizons. Yes, the Ipad makes a nice babysitter, but unlimited screen time is not okay.
There are very few rights and wrongs in parenting… Learn to recognize your feelings, understand them and then work with them to achieve the greatest successes for you and your family.
Alex Strauss, M.D. is Board Certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) in both Psychiatry and Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. He received his Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) from Northwestern University School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois. He completed his Adult, Child and Adolescent residency and fellowship at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (WPIC), a part of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He has expertise in the use of psychiatric medication and psychotherapeutic techniques for the treatment of all age groups. He also has a special interest in the treatment of concussion and psychiatric illness in athletes. You can visit his website www.alexstraussmd.com for more information.