The Moral Challenges in Protecting Families – conversation with Leonard Sax

2022. április 9. 10:00
Growing up is hard enough without kids having to question and “problematize” their own gender identity – Leonard Sax pointed out in a conversation Lénárd Sándor.

Besides being a psychologist and a practicing family physician, you are the author of four books on the role of gender, parenting and families. What makes these questions especially timely and challenging nowadays? How does your healthcare practice help you to draw solid conclusions?

As a family doctor, I see firsthand the issues that families are dealing with.

I have seen many families where the daughter is anxious and depressed, but doing well in school;

while her brother is doing poorly in school, goofing off in his bedroom playing video games. He’s quite happy, but he is not fulfilling his potential. That’s a common pattern. The reverse – a family in which the son is excelling in school while the sister is a goofball – is extremely rare. So that leads me to ask: why?

In your first book, Why Gender Matters you pointed out the innate differences between sexes. What was your main focus and what are their consequences?

I wouldn’t say that I had one main focus. I was just trying to understand why I saw such big differences in outcomes between girls and boys in my practice. Earning my doctorate in psychology at the University of Pennsylvania back in the 1980s, I had learned about hardwired differences in how females and males see, hear, and smell, as well as in the trajectories of brain development. A great deal more research has been published along the same lines since that time. So one of the motivations for Why Gender Matters was to share that research with a larger audience.



Leonard SAX MD, PHD, is an American psychologist and a practicing family physician, in Chester County Pennsylvania. He is the author of four books for parents including The Collapse of Parenting, which became a New York Times bestseller. He has appeared on the TODAY Show, CNN, National Public Radio, PBS, Fox News, Fox Business, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the British Broadcasting Corporation, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, New Zealand Television, and many other national and international media.


Many scholars overseas pointed out that the progressive ideology that increasingly dominates schools and universities today endangers young people’s intellectual development and personal integrity as well as parents’ proper authority over their children. What threats do you see in this respect?

My most urgent concern regarding progressive ideology has to do with questions of gender identity. The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued official guidelines that if a 5-year-old boy tells you that he’s a girl, you should change his name to Emily and put him in a dress. Anything else is bigotry, according to the American Academy. That guidance is not based in evidence; it actually contradicts the available evidence, as I noted in an essay published shortly after the guidelines were issued.

Such guidance is harmful.

Growing up is hard enough without kids having to question and “problematize” their own gender identity, beginning in elementary school.

Families are also called the most important “little platoons”. They are critical for developing characters, good habits and individual strengths. What should be their roles in addressing the intellectual threats of the contemporary world?

I am not comfortable with the phrase “intellectual threats of the contemporary world.” I think it would be wiser to speak of the moral threats of the contemporary world. Intellectual challenges can be met with reasoned argument. But the biggest challenges that parents and families face right now are not primarily intellectual but moral.

American kids are immersed in a culture which teaches them that being famous and wealthy are the ultimate goods.

American culture now prioritizes winning, and being famous, above doing the right thing and being a good friend. I don’t see that as an intellectual threat so much as I see it as a moral and spiritual threat.

How in your view this threat should be addressed?

Parents must thoughtfully and mindfully offer a different model. Parents should make it clear that doing the right thing is more important than winning. That begins with something as simple as the mark a child receives on an examination. Tell your child, “I would rather you get a low mark on the examination, rather than cheat and get a perfect mark.” Don’t take for granted that kids know that. There has been an explosion of cheating in the United States over the past 20 years, which I document in my book The Collapse of Parenting, in part because so many parents now emphasize winning, getting a good mark on the test, above being honest.

In your last book, The Collapse of Parenting, you argue that parents are increasingly abdicating their authorities in recent times. Why has the role of families changed in the modern Western societies? What would be the role of communities and the state to remedy this situation and to restore the role of families? What positive role could the state play in creating an environment that supports the “little platoons”?

The German sociologist Norbert Elias wrote about some of the big changes which occurred in the family in the second half of the 20th century. Among the changes he wrote about was the transfer of authority from parents to children. European parents no longer know what authority they have. He used the term Statusunsicherheit to describe contemporary parents. Parents today are uncertain, insecure, about their authority. More recently, Frank Furedi, a professor of sociology at the University of Kent, has studied the collapse of authority, including parental authority, in an article showing how this process began back in the 1930s and has flowered today.You ask about the role of the state in restoring the family. I don’t see much role for the state, except perhaps to abstain from mandating the teaching of gender fluidity in the elementary schools. The restoration of the family has to begin in the family and the community, not with government. I wrote The Collapse of Parenting in hopes of encouraging fellow parents to step up to the challenge.

What would be the first steps in this directions?

In The Collapse of Parenting, I lay out some simple, zero cost recommendations in this regard, such as:

1) Make family meals a priority. If an afterschool activity consistently conflicts with supper at home, cancel the activity.

2) No TV in anybody’s bedroom. There should be just one TV in the home, in the family room.

3) No earbuds, no headsets in the car. When you are in the car, you should be listening to your child, and your child should be listening to you, not to American hip-hop.

4) No devices in the bedroom. No mobile phones in the bedroom. Bedtime is for sleeping.


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