vs. yesterday's parenting
One of the great ironies of our time is that today’s parents,
with more professional resources at their disposal than ever before,
are experiencing more and greater problems in the area of discipline
than their grandparents even thought possible. Once upon a not-so-very-long-ago
time, children were mischievous. They tried to get away with what they
thought they could when adults weren’t looking. All too many of
today’s kids are surly, rude, disrespectful, ill-mannered, petulant,
and openly defiant.
The nature of the child has not changed in fifty years, so the problem
must lie with changes in how parents are going about their job. Indeed,
today’s “parenting” bears little resemblance to the
child rearing of fifty-plus years ago. Even if one overlooks such things
as working moms, day care, and the ubiquity of the single parent family,
the differences between then and now are considerable.
In the good old days (and make no mistake about it, while certainly
not idyllic, they were far better), parents concentrated their energies
on shaping character. They were intent upon raising children who embodied
the Three R’s of respect, responsibility, and resourcefulness.
Today’s parents, by contrast, seek to raise children who possess
high self-esteem, which researchers have found is correlated highly
with low tolerance for frustration, low self-control, and a sense of
personal entitlement. Be careful what you wish for, eh?
Yesterday’s parents valued good manners. Today’s parents
value skills and accomplishments, especially academic. Along with many
if not most of my peers, I entered first grade not knowing my ABCs.
My first grade teacher taught fifty children. She had far fewer discipline
problems than a first grade teacher today who, with an aide, teaches
twenty. Furthermore, those fifty kids—none of whom were held back
because of late birthdays—exited first grade reading better than
today’s first grade grads, many of whom knew their ABC’s
before their fourth birthdays.
Yesterday’s parents didn’t much care what grades their kids
brought home as long as the grades reflected their children’s
best efforts. Mothers didn’t help their children with homework,
nor did they challenge teachers who reported misbehavior. If a child
misbehaved in school, the teacher’s report was accepted, and the
child got into double trouble at home. But then yesterday’s parents
understood that one could not be a good enough parent to prevent one’s
child from behaving despicably on any given day. Today’s parents
seem to think that despicable behavior reflects bad parenting; therefore,
today’s kids are incapable of behaving despicably.
In those better days, when you misbehaved, your parents tried to make
you feel guilty. Many of today’s parents try to discipline their
children without causing guilt, not realizing that the anticipation
of guilt is the best preventive of misbehavior, not the anticipation
of “negative consequences.” Most people in my generation
will testify that knowing you disappointed your parents was the worst
consequence of all. But then, we were not on pedestals. The pedestals
were occupied by our parents. Needless to say, today’s parents
are more concerned about disappointing their kids than their kids are
about disappointing them, if they are even concerned at all. It’s
that pedestal thing.
The bottom line: You cannot raise children in two entirely different
ways and arrive at the same outcome. I sometimes ask parents, “Who
would you rather be raising, you or your child?” Eight out of
ten answer along these lines: “Oh, that’s a no-brainer,
John. Me, of course.”
Unfortunately, that’s not the right answer.