Ron Taffel

Are Therapists Seeing a New Kind of Attachment?

Over the past decade or two, seasoned therapists who treat young people have been seeing some increasingly worrisome trends. Although solid statistics are hard to come by, one indication of a surge in troubled young adults comes from the reports of college mental health services. A 2010 survey by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at the University of California, Los Angeles of almost 202,000 incoming college freshmen at 279 colleges and universities showed a shocking decline in self-reported mental and emotional well-being—at its lowest level since 1985, when HERI began conducting the surveys. In this recent survey, the percentage of students who rated their emotional health “above average” fell from 64 percent in 1985 to 52 percent. According to the June 2013 APA Monitor, 95 percent of surveyed college counseling-center directors said that the number of students with “significant psychological problems is a growing concern,” citing anxiety, depression, and relationship issues as the main problems. Another 2013 survey, the American College Health Association–National College Health Assessment, reported that 51 percent of 123,078 responders in 153 US colleges had experienced “overwhelming anxiety” during the previous year, 31.3 percent had experienced depression so severe it was difficult to function, and 7.4 percent had seriously considered suicide.

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The Decline and Fall of Parental Authority

 American parents today face a perfect storm of cultural and social circumstances that undermine the very foundations of parental authority. In response, mothers and fathers are beginning to see therapists as irrelevant and to challenge the entire social, educational, and economic context of childrearing. On a day long before the Occupy Wall Street Movement began, I met with a large group of 21st-century child professionals who were on a tear about the multiple inadequacies of today’s mothers and fathers. Sparks of indignation about parents’ inability or refusal to take charge of their kids—to create any kind of appropriate hierarchy in the family—lit up the auditorium. “They’re scared of their own children!” one proclaimed to nods of agreement all around. “If I ever said just one thing to my parents the way they allow their kids to talk to them every single day, I know exactly what would have happened to me!” said another. “They’ve abdicated, handing their children over to us to raise!” yelled a third. The general consensus was that today’s parents had become a “doormat generation” to their own kids, and that they were resisting all efforts by well-meaning professionals to help them grow parental backbones. It was enough to make one’s head spin.

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