John Rosemond September 2016 Columns
Copyright 2016, John K. Rosemond
Kudos to Catholic School's 'Problem Solving' Sign to Parents
Just when I am teetering on the edge of despair concerning the state of child rearing in America, dwelling much, much too obsessively on the damage being done to children and the nation by parents who won’t allow their children to take full responsibility for themselves, a little beam of light finds its way through the darkness and rekindles my hope for a future in which children are once again held fully accountable and, as a consequence, allowed to experience the fullness of authentic liberty.
The most recent beam of light came in the form of news that Catholic High School for Boys in Little Rock, Arkansas, absolutely forbids parents from coming to the aid of forgetful, irresponsible teenagers. Posted on the main door of the school is a sign reading “STOP! If you are dropping off your son’s forgotten lunch, books, homework, equipment, etc., please TURN AROUND and exit the building. Your son will learn to problem-solve in your absence.”
The only negative concerning this sign is that there is reason to post it in the first place. Back in the Age of Child-Rearing Commonsense, before parents lost their minds and replaced discipline with enabling, there would not have been such a reason. A child forgot his lunch money? Too bad. He didn’t eat until he got home. Forgotten homework meant an F. Forgotten equipment meant sitting on the bench. Even had there been cell phones with which students could call home to request a bit of enabling, parents would have refused. It simply wasn’t done. Furthermore, upon arriving home, the youngster would have been told, in no uncertain terms, that he was to never make such a phone call again.
Back then parents were mean; that is, they meant what they said. They would rescue their kids from burning buildings and the like, but not from the consequences of their own foibles.
Today’s parents, by contrast, seem to be unable to tell the difference between a burning building and forgotten homework or lunch money. They rescue indiscriminately at a moment’s notice. Child forgets something, mom is inconvenienced. Oh, she complains, but will do it again at the next moment’s notice, and her child knows it.
Thus, her child never learns self-reliance, personal responsibility, and self-discipline, none of which can be learned by any process other than the old-fashioned “hard way.” Eventually, if the enabling is powerful enough, he might even earn a diagnosis, upon which his parents are told he “can’t help it,” meaning they are heroes after all.
In all fairness, a Catholic school, especially one with an 86-year history of turning boys into men, can turn parents around at the front door. Public schools and most secular and even most sectarian schools dare not, lest they get sued by parents who have lost their minds or find themselves serving only orphans.
Notwithstanding their advantage, Little Rock’s Catholic High School for Boys, in reminding all of us of the way things ought to be, has become a small shaft of light in an otherwise darkening plain. Long may they run.
Parent Help With Homework Is a Generally Bad Thing
Amanda Johnson, a second-grade teacher in Laramie, Wyoming, has caused quite a stir both among her colleagues and constituents and—because her educational incorrectness was covered by national media—across the USA. Her claim to fifteen minutes of fame: Citing research purporting to show that homework does not improve overall achievement, Ms. Johnson has announced to the parents of her incoming students that she will not assign homework this year
I agree with Ms. Johnson, but not because research shows that homework does not improve achievement. I don’t think that’s what the research in question shows at all. A relatively recent study (which I’ve previously referenced in this column) found that parent involvement in homework is counterproductive. As I’ve said in this column and several books since the mid-90s, the study found that as parent help with homework goes up, child achievement goes down. The findings held true irrespective of demographics, socio-economic variables or ability.
A good 95 percent (my experienced estimate) of parent homework help amounts to enabling. It is unnecessary, undermines a child’s tolerance for frustration and ability to persevere, and erodes the child’s sense of responsibility. Furthermore, this “involvement” (the seductive name given it by America’s schools) quickly becomes self-fulfilling. The more a child is enabled, the more he will act like he is in need of enabling. Rapidly, this turns into co-dependence, which has become the norm in the parent-child (especially the mother-child) relationship over the last 45 or so years.
I contend that the research cited by Ms. Johnson simply reinforces what the above study found: parent help with homework is a generally bad thing (I say “generally bad” because there will always be exceptions to anything I say). Said research was done on a reasonably typical population of kids, meaning that most of the kids in question are receiving nightly enabling from their parents, mostly mom. The research, therefore, simply reinforces the results of the aforementioned study: whatever gain homework might produce in some of these kids is cancelled by parent involvement.
On that note, common sense says homework—a certain amount of it, that is—improves achievement. At some point, which differs slightly from child to child, the point of diminishing returns is reached, at which homework’s benefits are surpassed by such things as negative feelings toward school. But to say that homework per se is worthless is equivalent to saying that practicing baseball outside of regularly scheduled practices is worthless. Neither proposition makes any sense.
The underlying problem here is that for a complex of sociological and psychological reasons, today’s moms tend to hang their sense of adequacy on the hook of their children’s achievement in school. Specifically, the unspoken assumption in American mommy culture is that the mom with the highest achieving kid is, somehow, the best mom.
The solution, therefore, is for schools to assign a moderate amount of homework and stop encouraging moms to “help” with it. Forbid it, even.
Nonetheless, given the overall circumstances, Ms. Johnson in Laramie, Wyoming is doing the right thing. Her reasons are questionable, but her policy makes perfect sense.
Use Godfather Principle to Nip Fear of Doctor in the Bud
Q: Over the past year or so, our 5-year-old has developed an extreme fear of going to the doctor or dentist. This came on suddenly, without a precipitating incident. The crying begins when we arrive at the appointment. When the doctor or nurse tries to examine him, he goes bonkers—screaming, hitting, kicking. He has to be held down for something as simple as looking in his ears. Otherwise, he’s a normal little boy—occasionally disobedient, but nothing at all serious. This last time I decided to punish him by not giving him what I’d promised if he was good and sending him to his room when we got back home. Is this something I should treat as any other behavior problem? I’m really confused.
A: Whether the behavior in question reflects a true fear or not is open to question. With children (and even adults at times) one cannot accurately judge the book of behavior by the cover. Sometimes, what looks like a fear can be a form of rebellion. One thing is certain: Your son is trying to exercise control over healthcare appointments. Given that (a) there was no obvious precipitating incident, (b) he is not generally fearful or disobedient, and (c) his “fearful” behavior is not part of a larger pattern, I’d approach this as a behavior problem.
Before describing a tactic that has proven to be successful in other situations of this sort, involving children around your son’s age, two things:
First, offering a bribe for good behavior isn’t going to work (as you’ve already discovered) and is likely, in the long run, to be counterproductive. You don’t want your son to begin demanding “goodies” in return for obedience. Demands of that sort escalate over time. What begins as “I want ice cream” is likely to turn into “I want a trip to Disney World” in short order.
Second, your confusion is preventing you from acting authoritatively. You’re trying to persuade and nudge him into being a good patient. Getting over this hump is going to require force. I’m not referring to anything physical, mind you. Rather, I’m talking about using a form of what I call the Godfather Principle: making your son an offer he can’t refuse. (For the benefit of some younger readers, I’m referring to a famous line from the film “The Godfather.”)
The Godfather offer in question: Tell your son that until he fully cooperates with a doctor or dentist appointment he will enjoy absolutely no privilege, be confined to his room after supper, and go to bed one hour early. Privilege includes any and all after-school activities, birthday parties, sleep-overs, play dates, toys, television, and any purchases above what is absolutely necessary.
To restore his privileges, he must tell you he is ready to be a cooperative patient. At that point, you make an appointment with the doctor. If he displays any form of resistance on the way to or at the appointment, take him home immediately, reinstate his Spartan standard of living and just wait. This may take a week or it may take a month, so be prepared to hang in there with an attitude of nonchalance.
Make this your son’s problem and he will solve it.