Part of the problem is that we live in a culturally diverse society and we don’t have a standard of behavior that we all agree on. That is pretty evident from this thread. Acceptable standards of child behavior vary dramatically from culture to culture. We happen to have many subcultures together, often at odds with each other.
It isn’t only that children are not disciplined or that parents are clueless, it is that parents do not see the value in imposing various standards. When I was a child, it was pretty common for a parent to say, “Finish everything on your plate.” These days, many parents encourage a child to only eat until they are full.
These different standards also make parenting a more challenging job for all parents because their parenting is constantly being undermined by parents who have different standards. Take the ever popular cry room, for example. I avoided them like the plague when I had little ones. How do you explain to a 2-year-old that he needs to sit quietly on your lap when all the other kids are zooming cars around the floor? If everybody agreed that there should be no zooming cars in church, even in the cry room, then it would be a lot easier to teach my 2-year-old not to play in Mass.
In China, the standard for high academic achievement is pretty universal and the method for achieving it tends to be the same. My cousin works at an American boarding school in Malaysia that is full of Chinese students whose parents are desperate for a different way for their children who don’t fit the mold. There they find the freedom and room to grow in their own way that was not available to them at home.
One last thought on American parenting in general. We’re exhausted. Parents are expected to parent far more intensely than in the past. It is socially unacceptable to give our kids the freedoms and responsibilities that many of us enjoyed as children, and in some cases can get you in legal trouble. Our children are supposed to be constantly supervised and in organized activities. Our kids are being expected to spend longer hours in school and achieve developmentally inappropriate standards. We have to regulate their media intake, supervise insane amounts of homework (statistically more than in the past, on average), drive them to school (somebody might call CPS if you let them walk) and pick them up. If you step out of the rat race and don’t do sports or other organized activities, your kids have no playmates because everyone else is unavailable. Parents know that their children are over-scheduled, over-tested and overwhelmed. Some are trying to compensate, others are just tired.