NJ court case prompts questions about childhood discipline

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by JANET ST. JAMES

WFAA

Posted on March 5, 2014 at 6:01 PM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 5 at 7:20 PM

DALLAS -- She is 18, in high school, and refused to abide by her parents rules.

Rachel Canning of New Jersey moved out of her parents home and is now suing them for child support and tuition payments. A state superior judge ruled against her legal request, offering harsh words before scheduling another hearing next month.

The story has set the internet on fire.

“Every generation has been an 'entitled' generation," one online commenter wrote. "It's just that 17 or 18 is an age where people try to push their boundaries. The parents need to stand firm..."

“She is an adult. If she can walk out of her house, hold a job, vote, be in the military, she is an adult. She is now responsible for her own education,” another said.

That case, and the recent case Ethan Couch, the North Texas teen whose psychologist cited “affluenza” in defense of Couch's deadly drunk driving crash, has prompted questions about discipline and entitlement in today’s youth.

Experts say the problems often start in toddler years.

"A lot of times we'll say 'No,' there will be a louder whine [or] a cry, we'll say 'Maybe,'” said Dallas psychologist Dr. Matthew Housson. “There's a louder whine or cry and we say 'OK, you can have it.' It's that inconsistency in parenting that a lot of time will reinforce behaviors so that children, over time, will learn if I push, and I push, and I push, then I'll get what I want."

Dr. Houssen is a clinical psychologist that specializes in child behavior. He said giving in and giving a child everything the parent didn’t have growing up is often a huge mistake that turns manipulation into entitlement.

Rachel Canning knows her parents have a college fund for her and she wants access to the money, because she knows it’s there.

"It's a parent’s job to keep our children's feet on the ground,” Housson said, “and when we get away from 'Hard work leads to nice things' and rather think about, 'Well yeah, we have it, so I'll provide it for you,' we get off base."

Housson said parents can help prevent their kids from becoming little monsters - or bigger brats - if they teach self-control early and are consistent. By the time youngsters reach the adolescent or teenage years, the best solution for embedded behavior problems is counseling.

Otherwise toddler tantrums can grow up into a courtroom conniption.

E-mail jstjames@wfaa.com

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