Once upon a time, in a land far, far away - say 1950 - children were an integral part of a family's economic well-being. In rural areas, children spent their summers helping their families raise crops. In fact, this is the reason lawmakers originally gave children the summers off from school.
With the mass industrialization and development of this country during the second half of this century, these patterns broke apart. Children no longer had to spend their summers working the earth. Instead, they could stare blankly at TV or play video games.
The children regarded this as progress.
Freed from the straightjacket of traditional social duties, this generation (i.e., baby boomers) became keenly aware of their "specialness." Like an adolescent asserting his or her individual nature, they questioned authority and traditional social roles.
Cognizant that the values of discipline and blind duty, so inherent in a rural economy, were no longer as relevant to the world they were occupying, they sought to remake their surroundings.
They were impelled by a particular strain of liberalism that sought to affirm their existence not in terms of social roles, but as human beings. Along the way they succeeded in changing our government. In some cases for the better with their obvious compassion for the least among us (see civil rights legislation); in many cases for the worse (see affirmative action, expanded welfare and an institutionalized sense of victimization).
In any regard, the emphasis was squarely on the individual, with a not-so-subtle disdain for arbitrary social roles and duties.
It is no surprise then that baby boomers have transferred their free-floating unease with arbitrary social roles to the practice of child rearing. Essentially, baby boomers do not wish to neuter their children with arbitrary social conditioning, so they eschew discipline. Rather than imposing rules, they "meet" with their children, get "feedback," temper punishments and reduce the amount of chores and familial obligations.
According to a recent CNN/Time poll, 80 percent of the respondents indicated that "kids are more spoiled today than a decade ago." Three quarters felt that children had fewer chores then 10 years ago, while just under half felt that parents often put themselves in the position of obeying their children, rather than the other way around.
As with communism and The Boston Red Sox, this brand of touchy-feely child rearing is good on paper. In reality, it doesn't work. Since such an emotionally warm and nurturing environment rarely exists outside of our mother's womb, permissive child rearing is largely at odds with reality. The incongruity between a child's lazy home life and a cold, indifferent world can ignite a lifetime of confusion. This likely explains the current social apathy and aloofness of this generation.
In short, what a child needs is strict discipline.
When a child is acting out, he or she is literally begging the parents for discipline, to demonstrate with great certainly that they care.
Should a parent fail to respond, the child will naturally escalate the process, eventually attempting to supplant their authority altogether.
One of the most important things a parent can do is to teach strict discipline and respect. Doing so not only demonstrates love to children, but it endows them with a firm sense of individual responsibility. It helps them understand the way the world works. It teaches them to act in a more mature and responsible manner. It shows them that they're not deserving of every little thing and, that if they want something, really want something, they need to work to achieve it.
In short, a firm sense of discipline better enables a child to navigate his or her own life, rather than spending a life pushed and pulled along by childish whims.
This is a parenting lesson that baby boomers would have done well to learn.