John Rosemond May 2017 Columns
Copyright 2017, John K. Rosemond
An Open Letter to American Parents
Dear American Parent (hopefully, you will recognize yourself),
It’s high time someone reminded you of the adage “The road to ‘Hades’ is paved with good intentions.”
I have watched you from near and far as you have gone about raising your children. You’re certainly a well-intentioned person, thus my reference to the above adage. And your kids are cute, reasonably well-behaved (albeit you obviously believe they have no faults), polite, and so on. They are undoubtedly fun to be around (albeit not as fun as you obviously believe they are). You’re doing a good job, at least from the point of view of a culture that can’t seem to see past the end of its collective parenting nose. In other words, if the measure of one’s child-rearing is how many positive experiences one creates for one’s children, you get an A-plus.
You—but you are not alone in this regard—seem to believe that your job is to create happiness for your kids and minimize if not eliminate anything that might cause them the least iota of discomfort. That is NOT your job. Your job is to prepare emotionally-sturdy, self-responsible, respectful future citizens. The proper goal of raising a child in America is to make America a better place. You seem to think that parenting is or should be all about demonstrating love for one’s children—and make no mistake about it, children need to know they are loved unconditionally—but proper parenting is also an act of love for one’s neighbor. You have obviously lost sight of that, assuming you ever had it in sight.
You appear to think your children can do no wrong. That’s not true. They are human; therefore, they are naturally inclined to do self-serving things. When they do self-serving things, they need correction, if not reprimand. But reprimanding one’s child is a difficult thing to do when one wants to be liked by said child—which is obviously one of your goals. Is there something missing in your life that you are so dead set on being liked by a child?
And while I’m asking you questions, let me ask several more: What is the enduring value to a child of being treated like he is Uniquely and Amazingly Special? Is it reasonable to suppose that the day is coming, sooner or later, when people will not treat him as if he is UAS but just an ordinary human like the rest of us? What is likely in store for said child when that day comes?
The most difficult thing for a person to come to grips with is the truth about himself—his faults, foibles, and failings. No doubt about it: It is abusive to raise a child such that he believes he is nothing but fault, foible, and failing, but it is abuse of a different sort to raise a child such that he believes he is free of fault, foible, and failing.
A very wise person once said that while correction never feels good at the time, it eventually results in all manner of benefit (assuming it is accepted as intended). Likewise, never being corrected eventually results in all manner of detriment, but the detriment is never localized to just the person in question.
It boils down to this: Being a good citizen of the world is all about being able to put other people’s needs before one’s own. The earlier that lesson begins in any given person’s life, the better for the whole world.
Best regards, JR.
More Thoughts on ADHD
I fully expected my recent column on ADHD—in which I expanded upon noted Harvard psychologist (emeritus) Jerome Kagan’s contention that it is an “invention”—to stir the pot. Kagan said what I’ve been saying in this column and everywhere the opportunity has provided for more than 25 years. During that time, psychologists and psychiatrists have responded with vitriol and even threat, but when I have invited them to debate me, on their turf, at my expense, they have—to a person—become silent.
Said column drew opposing responses from mental health professionals, parents of children diagnosed with ADHD, and a few folks diagnosed with adult-ADHD. I’ve heard all the talking points before. The ADHD Establishment has been beating the same drums for as long as there’s been the diagnosis.
One individual, for example, claimed that ADHD is a “real thing” because it is “documented in the nonfiction book Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.” That argument presumes that the psychiatric diagnoses contained in the DSM-5 are valid in some objective sense of the term—as in the common explanation that many are caused by “biochemical imbalances.”
And yet (a) no biological anomaly has been found to be reliably associated with any psychiatric diagnosis, (b) no one has ever quantified the fictional "biochemical imbalance," and (c) no psychiatric drug has ever consistently outperformed a placebo in clinical trials. Concerning the latter, it can therefore be reasonably argued that said drugs rely to one degree or another upon the placebo effect. Indeed, in study after study, placebos have often reduced the symptoms of conditions contained in the DSM-5. Placebos do not, however, ameliorate the symptoms of valid diseases such as pneumonia and cancer. It appears that whether the DSM is fiction or non-fiction has yet to be determined.
Several respondents informed me that saying ADHD does not exist is as absurd and untenable as denying the reality of cancer. Ah, but a, b, and c above do not appertain to cancer. Cancer's symptoms are objective and quantifiable. The diagnostic symptoms for ADHD, on the other hand, are entirely subjective and unquantifiable. A physician can prove that someone has a malignant tumor, but no one has ever offered proof that someone “has” ADHD. As such, ADHD is not, as things stand, a reality. It is, rather, a construct and will remain so until proof of its biological reality is confirmed by peer-reviewed research. Until then, claims to that effect are spurious at worst, well-intentioned speculation at best.
It is telling to note that whereas billions have been spent trying to find a cure for cancer, no one is trying to find a cure for ADHD. But then, to cure a malady one must be able to locate it. ADHD cannot be located.
In short, to equate cancer and ADHD is to equate horses and unicorns.
Caveat: The diagnosis may be bogus, but no observant person would deny that significant numbers of school-age children have pronounced difficulties with paying attention, impulsivity, completing tasks, and the other diagnostic signs of ADHD. Interestingly, according to every single individual to whom I’ve ever spoken who taught elementary school in the 1950s (well into the hundreds of such former teachers), this behavior pattern was not a significant issue in their classrooms. Most report that it was nonexistent. The consistency of such reports effectively discredits the idea that ADHD is genetically transmitted, another common claim made by diagnosing professionals.
In The Diseasing of America’s Children (Thomas Nelson, 2009), my co-author (behavioral pediatrician Bose Ravenel) and I point out that the behaviors diagnostic of ADHD are typical to toddlers. In other words, since the 1960s, significant numbers of children have brought toddler behavioral characteristics with them to school (also including behaviors diagnostic of oppositional defiant disorder and bipolar disorder of childhood. Our explanation is that fifty years of bogus professional parenting advice based on bogus psychological theory (in combination with early exposure to screen-based media and increasingly non-nutritional diets) has created a slew of behavior and developmental problems that were not significant issues in the classroom of the 1950s and before.
Mental health professionals are fond of claiming that I blame parents for the behavior pattern known as ADHD. Wrong. They are passing the buck, and for understandable reason: to wit, I blame them.
What Constitutes a Good Mother?
By the time this column appears in most papers to which it is distributed, Mother’s Day 2017 will have come and gone. Nonetheless, I’m going to talk about mothers—one in particular.
To begin with, assuming one believes his or her mother is worthy of admiration, then said esteem ought to be expressed on a frequent basis and not reserved for the second Monday in May. Also, and with due respect to greeting card companies, said expressions of gratitude are best delivered intimately, as in phone calls, hand-written notes, or, best of all, in person.
With full awareness of the fact that the risk is immense, I’m going to risk attempting an answer to the question “What constitutes a good mother?” I feel I’m qualified to answer the question because I was blessed with a good mother. She was far from perfect, but then so are we all. She was at times irritating, infuriating, and even at times downright weird, but I’m sure I gave her more to complain about than she gave me. Nonetheless, she never complained. Not that she was an enabler, because she was far from that. My upbringing (Mom was single for most of the first seven years of my life) was very libertarian. She gave me lots of freedom while always insisting that I accept full personal responsibility for my actions. She gave me the greatest of freedoms, in fact—that being the freedom to fail. I took her up on that offer often enough in my younger years, by the way. In the process, I’m sure I caused her more than my rightful share of disappointment, but she loved me steadfastly through thick and thin.
Mom was fond of telling me that she was giving me a rope long enough to hang myself with, and hang myself I sometimes did, at which point she would tell me I was going to lie in the beds I’d made and stew in my own juices. She also told me I was going to pull my own wagon, a training that led, eventually, to charting my own course in a profession that frowns on members who won’t adhere to the party line (if interested, search John Rosemond Kentucky).
Mom was a feminist before feminism became popular. She chose single motherhood and fought tooth and nail for a doctorate in botany when women were far from welcome in the all-male life-sciences departments of most American universities. In the way she lived her life, she taught me that women are interesting people, or are fully capable of being—a capacity they will fall far short of if their children are the be-all, end-all of their existences, which I was not. Mom did not spare telling me that I was but one of her responsibilities. I was not the whole shebang. All children should be given that gift by their mothers.
She also taught me, by example, that authority resides legitimately in females. I was, I admit, afraid of her. Mind you, she never yelled or spanked. She just radiated a complete confidence in the authority she held over my life. She was the personification of Because I Said So. She was not highly involved with me. Rather, it was my job to keep her from getting involved.
I could go on and on about her affection, her marvelous sense of humor, her endless reservoir of knowledge, and the time and patience she gave to training my intellect (yet she rarely helped me with homework…back to that pulling my own wagon thing).
I’ll close by simply saying that my mother—Emily Webb of Charleston, SC—was a good mom; or, certainly good enough. Every kid deserves a mother that good. If your mom was good enough, make sure you tell her so more than one day a year.
Stay the Course With Rebellious Teen
Q: Our 18-year-old daughter is a month away from high school graduation and she is failing nearly every class! About six months ago, she took up with a group of young adults who are less than desirable, to say the least. Some of them are dropouts. I suspect drugs and alcohol. The more we tried to prevent her from running with this lowly bunch, the more rebellious she became. Finally, in desperation, we took her car and her smart phone away and told her she can’t have them back until she possesses a high school diploma. If she fails to graduate, she can go to summer school or get a G.E.D. from our community college. She says she’s not even going to go to school at all until we give her the car and phone back. And she adamantly refuses counseling. Help!
A: A principle that every parent needs to commit to memory: If a child does the wrong thing, and parents respond with a right and proper thing, the child may keep right on doing the wrong thing anyway. I call it the Jeremiah Principle because in the eponymous book of Scripture, the Lord of Israel laments that no matter what he does, His chosen people keep right on misbehaving. Fact or myth (I simply report, you decide), the story illustrates that proper consequences do not necessarily produce proper behavior.
In my view, you’ve done the right thing by stripping two of her most coveted privileges from her. In so doing, you’ve done your best to illustrate to her that freedom and personal responsibility are the yin and yang of life (my attempt to honor diversity). You can’t enjoy the former without the latter. And when I say, “you’ve done your best,” I mean there’s really nothing else you can do. I’m sure you already know that. You may simply be looking for a straw to grasp. You’ve no doubt tried grounding her, lecturing her – the usual approaches – and things have only gotten worse. So, stop trying to find the magic straw and stay the course.
Do not give her the car and phone back until she has possession of a high school diploma with her name on it. Do not waver. Do not cave in the face of her blatant attempt to blackmail you. Stop trying to talk reason into her thick little head. Just love her and know that loving a child often involves heartache and even heartbreak. Know also, however, that far more often than not, things eventually come around and the sun comes up again in the parent-child relationship. In the meantime, the two of you should focus on enjoying the later years of your lives together.
If your daughter doesn’t graduate with her class, so be it. You’ve done your job. It’s time for her to take over. Furthermore, she is letting you know that she is going to take over and there’s nothing, absolutely nothing, you can do about it. She is doing so in a self-defeating manner, but her self-righteousness blinds her to that, and there’s nothing but time and real life experience that’s going to instill that insight and understanding.
By the way, the next likely ploy on her part is to promise to go to counseling if you give her car and phone back. Don’t fall for that. She may be doing stupid things, but she’s still capable of being as clever as the proverbial fox.
Do Your Homework Before Choosing a School
Q: We have just moved and are seeking a new school for our two children – 6- and 8-year-old boys. They are smart, respectful of adults, and creative. We know that sounds like typical bragging, but it is what our friends and their teachers have all told us. We raise them in as traditional a manner as we can, given the opposing forces in today’s world. They have daily chores and are allowed no after-school activities that might interfere with family dinner. So, knowing all that, do you have any school recommendation for us? Our options are a private school that boasts wonderful student achievement, a public school that seems okay (no reports of big problems), a Montessori school, and a Christian school.
A: Before answering your question, I must honor your attitude and approach to raising your boys. As you obviously know, you are in the minority, but you are also evidence that retro-parenting is not a thing of the past, that it is not only still doable but also the very best way to go (as confirmed by research, by the way). Many kudos for swimming against the tide.
And now, an answer to your question: Of the options, the one that gives me the most pause is the public school. Over the past fifty years, public education has signed on to one teaching and disciplinary fad after another to no good effect. Furthermore, all too many public schools seem to believe that their mission is to identify and get appropriate “treatment” (i.e., pharmaceuticals) for as many children (mostly boys) as possible – not that this is exclusive to public schools, mind you. On the other side of the coin, the folks who work in public schools, in my experience, are qualified, dedicated folks (with exceptions, of course). If you’re comfortable with the public school your boys would attend, then by all means take advantage of the fact their tuition has been pre-paid.
Private schools, on average, can boast of high student achievement, a high percentage of students going to top-level colleges, and the like. However, if public and private school students are matched in terms of parent income and education, their achievement levels are fairly equivalent. So, in the final analysis, it’s not the school, it’s the student and the student’s family background. A highly-motivated kid from a home that emphasizes the importance of a good education is likely to achieve well regardless. Sounds like your kids fall into that category.
I am partial to Montessori, but only when the school in question adheres to Maria Montessori’s original philosophy, which was truly genius. However, not all schools that call themselves Montessori are equal. Some adhere well to Maria’s original vision, while others do not. Vet the school in question well. Do your homework. Know what to look for and what questions to ask.
As for Christian schools, the same wariness applies. Too many schools that call themselves Christian (irrespective of denominational affiliation, if any) have bought into educational fads, including rampant diagnosing and medicating. Again, do your homework.
When all is said and done, it sounds like you have four reasonably good options available. You could close your eyes and pick one and all would probably turn out well. Given two good kids who are learning proper family values, you don’t have anything to worry about.