Parents who fail to exert authority have bred a “spoilt generation” of children who believe adults must earn their respect, a top psychologist has warned.
Dr Aric Sigman’s research shows that many social problems, including teenage pregnancy and anti-social behaviour, are due to a lack of discipline.
Misguided attempts to “empower” children with more control over their lives are exacerbating the problem, he said.
Dr Sigman’s new book The Spoilt Generation analyses 150 studies and reports, including official crime statistics and data on parenting strategies.
The married father of four and Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine said: “Authority is a basic health requirement in children’s lives.
“Children of the spoilt generation are used to having their demands met by their parents and others in authority, and that in turn makes them unprepared for the realities of adult life.
“This has consequences in every area of society, from the classroom to the workplace, the streets to the criminal courts and rehabilitation clinics. Being spoilt is now classless – from aristocracy to underclass, children are now spoilt in ways that go far beyond materialism.
“This is partly the result of an inability to distinguish between being authoritative versus authoritarian, leaving concepts such as authority and boundaries blurred.
“And the consequences are measurable – Britain now has the highest rates of child depression, child-on-child murder, underage pregnancy, obesity, violent and antisocial behaviour and pre-teen alcoholism since records began.”
Dr Sigman called for “commonsense policies” to help children. He said: “There should be an absolute presumption both in law and in policy that adults ‘know better’ and are in the right unless there are exceptional reasons.”
He also stressed the importance of fathers’ access to children following separation or divorce, adding: “Separated fathers must be legally recognised as being of paramount importance.”
And he defends smacking as an effective and loving means of establishing parental discipline.
Other health and childcare experts have echoed Dr Sigman’s concerns about children’s need for authority figures in their lives.
Dr Michele Elliott of charity Kidscape said: “Children no longer have boundaries. It’s bad for children and it’s bad for parents.
“Some parents, due to a lack of time, pressures at work and so forth, are trying to buy their children’s love, which is toxic.”