How Parents Prolong the "Terrible Twos" Into Adolescence

Parents should not do for children what they are capable of doing for themselves

Posted Aug 29, 2016

John Rosemond, the least favorite parenting authority of the ADHD/Pediatric Bipolar apologist crowd (See my post Immaturity is Now Officially a Disease and None Dare Call it Acting Out), writes wickedly excellent newspaper columns about problematic modern parenting practices that create the misbehavior that is then diagnosed as a psychiatric disorder. One excellent example appeared way back in May of 2012. 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: characteristic of two years olds.

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 eerily similar to the criteria for many of the pseudo-diagnoses for children in the psychiatric profession’s diagnostic manual, the DSM-5.

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 often feeds in to it in my book, How Dysfunctional Families Spur Mental Disorders.

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 quite expensive.

There was something around back then 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 internationally. 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.

 Wikimedia Commons, "Mick Jagger" by by Gonzalo Andres
Source: Source: Wikimedia Commons, "Mick Jagger" by by Gonzalo Andres

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 even 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 at Cal 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 also quite expensive. We actually wrote letters. Snail mail. Getting replies took days or longer.

 Flickr, "Haight-Ashbury" by Doug Wertman, CC by 2.0
Source: Source: Flickr, "Haight-Ashbury" by Doug Wertman, CC by 2.0

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, surrounded by people who went through their entire days dressed up as Indians of both the Eastern and American sort. Watching Jim Morrison at a Doors concert invent diving into the crowd from the stage. Priceless.