John Rosemond July 2017 Columns
Copyright 2017, John K. Rosemond
Are You a Parenting Wreck? This Quiz Will Tell You
Do you need a parent-nanny? Not a nanny for your child, mind you, but one for YOU!
I recently introduced my readers to what I call “upside-down, inside-out and turned around backwards parent-view disorder” (the column in question is currently posted on johnrosemond.com). The symptoms of this ubiquitous malady include pervasive and persistent parenting stress, worry, anxiety, guilt, anger, resentment, and then, more guilt. When all is said and done, these poor souls are in never-ending confusion over “Who’s in charge around here?”
Many of the folks who suffer from UDIOTABPVD are in denial—clueless, in the vernacular. So, to help these suffering souls self-identify, I am rolling out the “Am I Or Am I Not a Raving Parenting Lunatic Scientific Rating Scale.” Here’s how it works: Simply write T (for True) or F (for False) to the left of each of the following 20 questions. Don’t think too much about any answer. Go with your initial inclination.
1. I think more about my children than I think about anything else.
2. I believe parents should pay as much attention to their children as they possibly can.
3. I want to be involved in every aspect of my kids’ lives.
4. My relationships with my children are the most important relationships in my life.
5. I want my children to like me.
6. When a decision of mine upsets one of my children, I usually second-guess myself.
7. It’s a parent’s responsibility to help a child get good grades in school.
8. Bullying is anything done to my child by another child that upsets my child.
9. Other adults often fail to understand and treat my child properly.
10. When my child feels upset, I feel upset as well.
11. I usually finish an instruction to my child with the word “Okay?”
12. One of my children is very argumentative.
13. One of my children seems to be very needy of my attention.
14. One of my children often interrupts me when I’m talking to someone else.
15. Raising a child (or children) is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
16. Worrying about one or another of my kids causes me frequent sleep deprivation.
17. One of my children is very demanding and disrespectful.
18. One of my children cannot take “no” for an answer.
19. I feel guilty about sometimes wanting my children to leave me alone.
20. I must be doing something wrong.
If you answered True to between zero and 5 questions, inclusive of 5, you’re okay. Remain calm and stay the course. If you answered True to between 6 and 10 questions, inclusive, you are shaky but hanging in there. If you answered True to between 11 and 15 questions, your parenting mental health is over the edge. If you answered True to more than 15 questions, you are a certified parenting wreck. You need a live-in parenting expert—a parent-nanny, if you will. Call me. Anything is negotiable.
A Little 'Vitamin N' Can Go a Long Way
I call it “Vitamin N.” It is the word children need to hear most, but it is currently the word children hear least. It is arguably the most character-building word in the English language, but then helping children achieve great things (or creating the illusion that they are achieving great things) has eclipsed helping children build strong character. That is unfortunate indeed because high achievement alone does not produce solid character, but a person with solid character will always do his or her best.
Children do not know what is in their own best interests. They are short-sighted, pleasure-seeking, impulsive, and instant-gratification oriented. They have great difficulty realizing that pain often leads to gain, failure to accomplishment, and that putting off reward often results in even greater reward. The job—it is their primary job, in fact—of parents and other adult caregivers is to determine and do what is in children’s best interests. That sometimes means incurring wrath, which is one of a short list of reasons why adults should never, ever want to be liked by children. The fact that an adult knows he loves the child who momentarily hates him, loves the child enough to make the supreme sacrifice (which the child cannot grasp and will not until he has children of his own), is sufficient.
When people of my generation get together, the conversation often gets around to what we see going on with today’s parents. We share our observations with one another in large part because many if not most of today’s parents are not interested in our observations. They see their children with tunnel vision and cannot fathom that their preoccupation could possibly be a handicap to both themselves and their kids. Tunnel vision is, after all, a form of blindness.
The above conversation always, without exception, comes down to one conclusion: today’s parents, despite their good intentions, are their own and their children’s worst enemies. The so-called “issues” they are having with their kids are the logical result of their parenting behavior. They complain about these difficulties but God help the boomer who points out, however diplomatically, that they, not their children, are the problem.
They argue with their children not because their children are argumentative, but because they explain themselves. Their children do not do what they are told because the parents in question do not tell; rather, they suggest. Their children are petulant and ungrateful because they indulge. Their children have never learned to pay attention to adults or take adults seriously, therefore they disobey and are disrespectful. And so on.
Perhaps the most ubiquitous of all contemporary parenting complaints is “My child can’t take ‘no’ for an answer.” It is the aural equivalent of “My child won’t eat broccoli.” In both cases, it is the absence of what the child supposedly cannot take or eat that causes the child’s aversion. The solution to a loathing of broccoli is broccoli, as in, “Your dinner is two florets of broccoli. When you have eaten them, you may have ample portions of what the rest of us are having.” Likewise, a child who cannot take “no” for an answer simply needs lots more of it.
The best “vitamins,” after all, are those that are the hardest to swallow.
Put a Lid on Materialistic Excess for Kid With Sticky Fingers
Q: We’ve just been informed that our 7-year-old son has been effectively “expelled” from the private school he attended last year because of repeated instances of stealing small items from classmates and, on one occasion, from the teacher’s desk. We’re rather shocked because our son was the highest-performing student in his first-grade class and the school’s administration promised to work with us concerning the problem. Through the school year, he stole at least twenty items from other children, things like pencils, pencil sharpeners, and several of these new toys called “spinners.” He’s an only child and only grandchild who’s been, we regret to say, indulged by both us and both sets of grandparents. We don’t understand how a child who’s been given nearly everything he ever wanted would steal things he could have for the asking. Do you have any insights into this sort of thing and, hopefully, a solution?
A: Paradoxically, many if not most young children who steal from other children fit the profile you described. They are over-indulged, from upper-middle class homes, and often only children.
The question “Why would a child who’s been given nearly everything he ever wanted steal from other children?” answers itself. For the children in question—for whom getting things is routine—there’s no excitement attached to being given something new. The act of stealing provides that thrill. Furthermore, stealing imparts a sense of drama to a transaction that has become dull and predictably easy. Specifically, lots of people, mostly adults, are upset and everyone’s trying to get to the bottom of things.
My first recommendation, therefore, should be obvious: put a lid on the materialistic excess in his life. Getting something new has to become the exception rather than the rule.
It’s unfortunate that the school has decided on expulsion after assuring you that they’d work with you. I imagine their sense of responsibility to parents of your son’s classmates drove their decision to effect a “final solution. There is, however, a silver lining in this otherwise dark cloud. If your son attended a public school, there’s significant likelihood that he’d be referred to a psychologist, diagnosed, and perhaps even medicated for some bogus reason.
One way to stop the stealing, which sounds as if it’s become or in danger of becoming habitual, is to homeschool him for a few years. I’m not talking about isolating him from other children, but simply reducing if not removing the opportunity for the problem to occur. If you homeschool, you should provide him plenty of opportunities for supervised recreational interaction with other kids his age.
If you decide to move him to another school, then you need to prepare yourselves and his new teacher (and principal) for the fact that stealing was a problem in grade one. If and when it occurs again, he’s got to pay a steep price. I’d suggest having him write and deliver an apology to the entire class or something along those lines. That may have to happen several times before the “medicine” takes effect. The success of such an approach depends on a teacher who is affectionate but unemotional and cut-and-dried concerning disciplinary issues. Generally, the older the teacher, the better, but that’s true regardless these days.
Control the Controller, Defeat the (Video Game) Addiction
Have you ever heard of an addict who was cured of his or her addiction because someone limited, but did not eliminate, their access to the substance or behavior in question? No, you have not. Is an addiction to gambling less harmful if the addict is only allowed to gamble five hours a week? No, it is not. The proposition is absurd.
Before I continue, a digression: I am allowed, by law, to call myself a psychologist; therefore, I am a psychologist. However, I am ever-increasingly aware that I do not have much in common with most people in my nominal profession. In this regard, I am of the experienced opinion (38 years) that clinical psychology is more ideology than science, more fad-driven than fact-driven, and that the facts are not impressive. Does several years of graduate school make one a better advice-giver? Is any form of psychological therapy reliably effective? These questions, and many more, remain unanswered to satisfying degree.
My digression underscores a story recently passed along to me by a highly reliable witness. A psychologist, speaking to a group of North Carolina parents, recommended against taking video game controllers away from pre-teen and teen boys who are obviously obsessed with video games for the very reason that they are obsessed. To be clear: Because playing video games is, according to said psychologist, supposedly harmless and “so very important” to these boys and gaming is their main social activity to boot, the controllers should not be taken away. Again, the proposition is absurd.
In the early 1980s, I publicly asserted (in this column) on the basis of observation alone that video games were addictive. I was generally dismissed, even ridiculed. The ridicule, by the way, came primarily from—you may have guessed it—other psychologists. A growing body of research now confirms my theory. Over the years, hundreds of parents have sought my advice concerning teenage boys (never a girl, by the way) who want to do nothing but play video games. Their grades have plummeted, their personal hygiene has collapsed, they are sullen and do not want to participate in family activities, even mealtimes, they get up in the middle of the night to “game,” and they become threatening toward parents who even suggests that enough is enough.
My advice is always the same: While the boy is in school, confiscate the controller, smash it, and toss the pieces in a dumpster located at least ten miles from home—and do not ever, under any circumstances, allow one of these nefarious devices back in said household. Without exception, the child has either gone stark-raving insane or he locks himself in his room and won’t come out, sometimes for days; in either event, proving that he is indeed addicted.
It generally has taken several weeks for withdrawal to run its demonic course, after which the child begins to act like, well, a child again. One teen boy, upon discovering that his controller was gone, destroyed his room and would not speak to or interact with family for two weeks. Finally, he thanked his parents, telling them that he felt much, much better and was now aware of the damage he’d been doing to himself. I’ve heard many similar stories of recovery.
Video games are doing many children great harm. The many children in question constitute a significant number of boys in the up-and-coming generation. For these boys to become authentic men, they need to be rescued. They are not going to rescue themselves.