Mariann Main: ‘Enabling’ parents hurt their children in the long run


Mariann Main - Local Answers to Life’s Questions

It’s a new year. How are the resolutions progressing? Or have they already been discarded onto the heap of good intentions?

Vague promises to change our behavior would be less necessary if everyone assessed the habits of their parents and the imprinting and impact of actions or “non-actions” upon offspring. No one can change their genetic code. Yet addressing family flaws might be the key to true change and a different outcome from derailed resolutions.

The “mother lode” of bad parenting currently is being broadcast onto television screens nightly. Tonya Couch, 48, and her ex-husband, Fred, have produced the epitome of the “enabled child.” Ethan, 18, the “affluenza teen,” was found guilty of killing four people in a 2013 driving accident while he was drinking underage and reportedly three times above the legal limit.

His parents’ wealth and ability to hire a top defense attorney successfully shielded the teen from responsibility for those lost innocent lives. Couch’s laughable “sentence” was probation and the mandate of no alcohol consumption or association with others who were drinking. That Texas judge should be ashamed of such leniency.

A recent social media posting showed Couch in attendance at a “Beer Pong” fueled party, which outed him. Instead of facing the consequences of a videotaped probation violation, his mother shuttled him to Mexico to avoid prosecution.

Enabling parents, such as Tonya Couch, who think they are “helping” their children, are committing one of the greatest injustices to their offspring. As a counselor for young children and teens, encountering this parade of enabling parents is frequent and frustrating.

The foundation for enabling a child often starts early. When a child is sad or has experienced a bad day at school, instead of a parent discussing the events and determining a coping strategy, a food pacifier, such as ice cream, is often offered to deflect emotional upset.

Years later, that same child potentially is fighting a weight issue and lacks coping skills for inevitable conflicts that occur in life. The “good intentions” of that parent later can cause strife in life as an adult wrestling with such issues as obesity and conflict-avoidance which can derail marriages and a gamut of other relationships.

Confrontation with a child to complete chores — make his bed, finish homework, study for an exam — takes exceptional fortitude by a parent. Instead, the “path of least resistance” — by allowing offspring to endlessly watch TV, sleep the day away or play video games — is an easier route for an enabling parent.

Is it any surprise this now-adult has flunked out of college, carries an abysmal employment history, and still lives at home? How successful will this “enabled” individual be in maintaining New Year’s resolutions or making major life changes when the seeds of dysfunction started early and were reinforced often by an undisciplined parent?

Dr. Leonard Sax, a family physician, last week released a book titled “The Collapse of Parenting.” Interviewed on CBS This Morning on Dec. 28, the segment was appropriately labeled “Who is in charge here?”

His observations and commentary from more than 30 years of practicing medicine are both a revelation and shocking when compared with the parenting styles of other countries. One glaring difference is the prescription of medication for children with hyperactivity in the United States that is 90 times more common than Italian adolescents of the same age, says Sax.

Once again, the “parenting path of least resistance” mandates medication rather than parental oversight for children to exercise by getting outside and expending energy. Instead, allowing them to sit for hours playing video games or using the computer as a babysitter are all easier options and minimize conflict.

These same parents are later unable to understand why a child is acting out in the classroom, cannot remain seated and are failing school.

Should you be a parent with adolescent or young children, how about drafting several “parenting resolutions” to start the New Year? A few suggestions might include:

• Having chores for kids to complete before video game or “play time.”

• Strenuous activity is essential to burn off energy. Winter might reduce the outdoor exercise options, yet ice skating, bowling, swimming at a natatorium, sledding, basketball or dance lessons might be a start for lessening the potential of needing ADHD medication later.

It is a surprise to me how many clients report that gym class is no longer an option for elementary or middle school students. Instead, a school nurse is readily dispensing ADHD medication rather than recess.

• Giving children or teens a writing assignment that requires sitting, focusing and writing something using paper and a pen or pencil, versus typing on a computer or tablet.

• Finally, as a parent, being able to say “no” without a lengthy explanation.

Be the parent versus a “friend” to your children. They will thank you later when having fewer New Year’s resolution failures themselves, and are self-sufficient, responsible adults. The laughable Texas legal system has hopefully learned a costly and embarrassing lesson, that leniency accomplishes nothing.

Tonya Couch is equally as deserving of a long jail sentence, which her son wrongly avoided. She and her ex-husband created an entitled and irresponsible teenager who has minimal chance for changing his life now due to their faulty, over-indulgent parenting, and the consequences of ending four innocent lives.

Mariann Main

Local Answers to Life’s Questions

Mariann Main is a Delaware native and graduate of The Ohio State University’s school of journalism. She has a master’s degree in community counseling and will be completing her 2,000 clinical hours for independent licensure in March. She can be reached at

Mariann Main is a Delaware native and graduate of The Ohio State University’s school of journalism. She has a master’s degree in community counseling and will be completing her 2,000 clinical hours for independent licensure in March. She can be reached at