A generation of "snowplough" parents have pampered their children so much that they are driving a mental health epidemic among today's teenagers, a leading Australian child psychologist says.
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, a high-profile parenting expert who spoke to teachers and parents at The Illawarra Grammar School this week, said many Generation X parents had made their children's lives so easy that the kids were left with no way to handle problems or overcome obstacles on their own.
"This generation of parents just push all the obstacles out of the way and try to make life as simple and as easy as possible for their kids," he said.
"On the face of it, that's admirable because we all want the best for our kids, but it teaches them absolutely nothing about resilience and creates immense vulnerability when they leave home and go into the big wide world."
A snowplough parent drives their child right to the school gate instead of making them catch a bus or walk to school.
They buy their children all the latest gadgets and toys, wash, clean, cook and iron without making kids pitch in, and they make sure their sons and daughters only hand in meticulous homework and assignments.
Dr Carr-Gregg blames this increasingly common parenting approach on guilt, caused by mothers and fathers not spending enough time with their children.
"Part of it is that you've got parents with much smaller sized families, [who are] less connected to extended families so there is less support," he said.
"The parents are time poor, they are guilty and they tend to indulge their kids too much."
This was not only creating a generation of spoilt and overindulged children, he said, but was contributing to an unprecedented mental health crisis by leaving young people ill-equipped to deal with their own problems.
He said the rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicide were higher in regional areas like Wollongong than in major capital cities.
"About one in four young people will have a major psychological problem before leaving school ... so arguably this is the most vulnerable generation in the history of the Illawarra," he said.
"It's ironic because we've seen the First and Second World Wars and Vietnam but in fact, from a psychological point of view, these kids are less resilient than their parents or grandparents."
Dr Carr-Gregg said it was up to parents to help avert a bigger mental health crisis by making their children do the hard work.
"I have a rule of thumb, 'never do for your children what they can do for themselves'," he said.
He said this meant putting children on a bus or bike, or showing them how to use public transport to get to school.
They should also have regular chores, strict rules about using technology and, when they are old enough, a part-time job to teach them the value of money.
"We just have to stop pampering them - it's reached epidemic proportions," he said.
"Many of the kids I talk to have never actually cooked for themselves, they've never actually made their own bed or tidied their own room, washed their clothes or ironed their shirts.
"Kids aren't made of glass and they are not going to shatter."
How to care for your kids without being a snowplough
• Make sure your kids get enough sleep
Sleep is the single most important study tool because kids who don’t get enough sleep are ‘‘crabby and unpleasant and can’t learn properly’’.
• Make sure they eat a healthy breakfast
Research suggests 10per cent of schoolchildren don’t eat breakfast and another 15per cent eat unhealthy food - they are neurologically unteachable.
• Zero tolerance of alcohol
Alcohol is toxic to the developing brain, so children should not drink anything at all until at least 16.
• Moderate and limit technology use
Dr Carr-Gregg says most parents are unaware of tools that allow them to block or moderate their children’s internet and video game use. Parents need to use programs to allow kids to access the internet for homework but block social media that will distract them.
• Talk to your kids. Eat at the table
Parents don’t spend enough time talking one-on-one with their kids when they are young.
Eating at the dinner table leads to better academic results, language development and protection against alcohol and drug abuse.