John Rosemond April 2018 Columns
Copyright 2018, John K. Rosemond
'Gentle Parenting' Just a Rebrand of 'Parenting'
Upon arrival on-site for a recent speaking engagement, I am told that several rather vocal parents refused to attend because I am not an advocate of “gentle parenting.” That implies that I proselytize for “rough” or “harsh” parenting, which I do not, and be assured dear reader, at this stage of my life I am acutely clear concerning what I do and do not believe.
Curious, I went to that most reliable source of information, the Internet, and after rummaging around a bit, discovered that so-called gentle parenting is nothing more than a rebranding of the same-old, same-old child-rearing philosophy that got us into this mess we now call “parenting.” It is what I – much more accurately, I contend – call “postmodern psychological parenting.” It is postmodern because its proponents care nothing for truth or fact – in this case, research has established that children reared prior to the 1960s were much, much happier, were far more emotionally resilient, and possessed much better mental health in general than children raised since. It is psychological because its contentions rest on discredited psychological (more specifically, humanistic) theory.
According to its proponents and practitioners, gentle parenting involves treating children as equals, having them participate in family decision-making, giving them a plethora of choices (as opposed to commands) and explanations, and never, ever telling them that something they did was wrong, bad or, Heaven forbid, immoral. After all, wrong is a valid concept only if one believes that morality is a constant. To be clear, gentle parents are not authority figures; they are “partners.”
According to the gentles, misbehavior is not the child’s natural inclination. If the child does something that is – I cannot for the life of me figure out what word should be substituted for “bad” – punishment is not an option because punishment identifies the behavior as precisely what the behavior is apparently not (i.e., bad) and assigns responsibility to the child for that which must not, at all cost, be termed bad. According to the gentles, children behave badly only because their adult caregivers have failed to “connect” with them in some essential way (e.g. they have failed to treat said children as equals). It is essential to maintain the charade that children are divine beings sent from Heaven to grace us with their immaculate presence.
Apparently, at some point in one’s life, one is capable of doing wrong things, but no gentle parenting website clarified this, probably because when people actually do wrong things it is because they were not parented gently enough, if gently at all.
At this point, full disclosure is in order: Along with a good 98 percent of children raised in the 1950s, I was not raised by gentles. I was not even “parented.” From early on, I was raised by people who treated me as if I was intelligent and resilient enough to accept full responsibility for my behavior, which was often – GASP! – bad.
I have a question for the gentles: If misbehavior is not a child’s inclination, how is it that youngsters who’ve never witnessed acts of violence will hit people when they don’t get their way, slap and even bite other children in order to possess their toys, and act demon-possessed when they, the parents, do not obey? If children are semi-divine beings, why then do they begin to lie (i.e. “I didn’t do it!”) as soon as they begin to talk? Why do children raised by even overly-generous parents refuse to share?
This gentle parenting flimflam is nothing more than a rehash of the unmitigated balderdash that mental health professionals have been peddling since the late 1960s. Since then, child mental health has plummeted (and continues to do so), child and teen suicide has soared, and college campuses now have “safe spaces” where 20-something little boys and girls who’ve been gentled – that is, coddled and enabled – for their entire lives can play with puppies and sing “Puff the Magic Dragon” through maxi-pacies.
Once again, what goes around (and around and around and…) comes around.
We Have a Child, Teen Mental Health Crisis in U.S.
Do we – here in the USA, that is – or do we not have a child and teen mental health crisis and if the answer is yes, we do, then what should be done about it?
Without doubt, the answer is yes, we do have a child and teen mental health crisis. Today’s child, by age 16, is five to ten times – depending on the source – more likely to experience a prolonged emotional crisis than was a child raised in the 1950s. For example, I do not remember, nor have I ever run into a person my age who remembers a high school classmate committing suicide. (No jokes about our memories, please.) Teen suicide happened, but it was rare. In fifty years, it has become the second-leading cause of teenage death.
So, given the undeniable reality of a large and growing problem, the second question: what should be done? The answer – or, more specifically, my answer: Nothing that involves any form of mental health treatment. We have some fifty years of evidence to the effect that neither therapy nor medication has mitigated the deterioration of child and teen mental health. No surprises there, given that the general efficacy of therapy is unverified and no psychiatric medication has ever consistently outperformed placebos in clinical trials.
Point of fact: As the percentage of children and teens receiving therapy and psychiatric medications (A) has increased exponentially, the child and teen mental health crisis (B) has increased likewise. Common sense says that more of A is not going to result in less of B.
The crux of good mental/emotional health is a quality known as “emotional resilience” – the ability to withstand and keep moving forward, chin up, in the face of disappointment, deprivation, prolonged frustration, crisis, setback, loss, and failure. The fact is that what I call “postmodern psychological parenting,” the pig in a poke that mental health professionals sold to America in the late 1960s and early 1970s, turned child rearing into never-ending enabling. Fifty years of PPP have generated lots of business for mental health professionals and greatly increased the pharmaceutical industry’s profit margin, while simultaneously rendering a significant percentage of young people incapable of dealing, chin up, with disappointment, deprivation, etc.,
The obvious solution, therefore, to the ongoing child and teen mental health crisis is for parents to stop enabling, coddling, pampering, indulging, and cocooning children. My mother, a single parent for most of the first seven years of my life, would serve as an excellent role model in that regard. She refused to help me with my homework, for example (and she eventually obtained a Ph.D. in the life sciences!). My responsibilities were mine, as hers were hers. She expected me to entertain myself (without – gasp! – even so much as a television set), fight my own battles, lie in the beds I’d made, stew in my own juices, stand on my own two feet, and other equally character-building things. I was never lacking in her love, but my mother was not my friend. She had a life separate and apart from being a parent.
In the final analysis, whether parenting weakens or strengthens is largely a matter of physical and emotional boundaries, the lack or presence thereof. Along that line, I had no permission to interrupt my mother at anything she was doing, nor did my emotional state define hers. It appeared that my peers enjoyed – and enjoy it was – similar relationships with their moms.
By contrast, today’s all-too-typical mother is enmeshed in a co-dependent relationship with her kids. For some odd reason, that state of mutually-assured-destruction is now, according to the culture, the quintessence of good mommying. Given that ubiquitous state of affairs, it is no surprise that more psychiatric drugs are consumed by women with children than any other demographic.
After all, living one life is complicated enough these days. Trying to live one’s own life as well as someone else’s, well, I can only imagine the level of stress incurred…by both parties.
Don’t Go Down the Road of ADHD Testing
Q: Our son, age 8, did fine in school in first grade, but has struggled in second. We’ve taken your advice and not helped much with his homework other than occasional and brief “consultations.” He’s making average grades but his second-grade teacher – she’s fairly young, by the way – tells us that he is actually slightly behind in both reading and math. We met recently with the school counselor, school psychologist, and his teacher, all of whom recommended that he be tested for ADHD (they told us that he’s easily distracted) and a learning disability. We really don’t want to go down that road, but they’re making it seem like that’s the only responsible thing for us to do. What are your thoughts on this?
A: I agree. You really don’t want to go down that road. In the first place, the fact that an eight-year-old boy is “struggling” in school and “slightly” behind in reading and math, yet making decent grades does not, in my estimation, indicate a serious problem. The bell-shaped curve – which schools seem to have forgotten (or conveniently ignore) – predicts that some otherwise normal (problem-free) children will perform below the academic mean. Private schools try to weed out children who will bring down their test scores; public schools cannot. So, in public school, one is likely to find a greater proportion of kids who “struggle.” Furthermore, a disproportionate number of the kids in question are likely to be boys – and boys tend to be distractible.
As I have said many, many times in this column, books, and my weekly radio show (American Family Radio), there is no scientific validity to a diagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Unlike a verifiable physical disease like cirrhosis, ADHD is a construct, not a verifiable reality. On numerous occasions over the past thirty years, I have publicly challenged my colleagues in the mental health professions to provide concrete proof of heritability, a biochemical imbalance, or a consistent “brain difference” (all of which they frequently claim concerning ADHD). I have yet to hear a lucid response.
As for determining whether a child “has” ADHD by giving tests, it is fascinating to note that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the diagnostic “bible” of the mental health professions) lists not one test-based criteria for making the diagnosis. The question, then, becomes: Since tests do not figure into the diagnosis, why then are they often administered? The only answer I can come up with is that tests are given to create the impression that the diagnosis is arrived at vis ‘a vis a scientific process (when it is not).
When I make that charge, psychologists tell me that the tests are not given to obtain a diagnosis, but rather a “big picture” of the child. The question then becomes: If the (expensive) tests in question are not necessary to the diagnosis, why do so many parents obtain the impression that they are?
Then there’s the fact that public schools receive supplementary funding for every child diagnosed with ADHD and put on what is called an “individualized education program” or IEP (so do certain private schools, by the way). Call me cynical, but when money is a possible incentive to making a certain diagnosis, I am suspect.
Two things jump out at me: first, that your son didn’t have problems in grade one; second, that the second-grade teacher is inexperienced. It may well be that your son’s struggles say more about her than they do him. I would be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt and simply recommend that you hire a tutor – ideally, an older, veteran teacher – to work with him during the summer and bring him up to academic speed before he goes back to school in the fall.
The simplest and most obvious explanation for a problem of this sort is usually the correct explanation; furthermore, the simplest and most obvious solution is usually the best solution.
Parents of Unmotivated Teen Should Stop Stressing
Q: Our 17-year-old son is flunking his junior year in high school. Flunking is not a possibility; it is a definite, a done deal. He has passed the point where he could turn this around. He’s very intelligent and made reasonably good grades until his sophomore year. He’s not depressed in the least, he doesn’t do drugs or drink, has lots of friends (all of whom are going to be seniors next year), and his teachers all like him despite his poor performance. He participates in class discussion but does not complete assignments and doesn’t study for tests. The school said they could promote him if we agree to have him classified as a “special needs” child (as in ADHD) who needs accommodations, but we refused. So, he doesn’t have enough credits to be a senior and will have to repeat most of his junior classes. We are at wits end. He wants to go to summer school where he can make up some if not most of the classes he flunked, but we have plans for the summer and aren’t about to make the whole family sacrifice because of his irresponsibility. He responds by threatening to drop out of school and go into the Army. We hope you have some ideas we haven’t thought about or already tried.
A: I’m reasonably certain that you haven’t tried the following brilliant idea: Stop trying to solve this problem. You can’t. You’re simply not accepting the evidence to that effect. Said differently, have no illusions to the effect that there’s a solution out there somewhere that you’ll someday find if you’re willing to persevere.
I’m very familiar with this problem. I’ve heard the same story several hundred times. In not one of these cases were the teen’s parents able to come up with a fix. Occasionally, one of the rebels-with-no-apparent-cause suddenly and inexplicably woke up, smelled the coffee, and corrected himself. Nothing the parents did brought this about, mind you. In the overwhelming number of cases, however, the youngster (usually male) ended up in some branch of the armed services, dropped out of school and obtained a GED through the local community college, or just rode off into the sunset, oblivious to the fact that there is a reality past the end of his own nose.
I can't say this loudly enough: Parents are not responsible for everything their children do. Their job is not to prevent their children from making mistakes – they can't. Rather, their job is to do all they can to make sure their children learn from their mistakes. In your son’s case, the learning in question consists of a simple reality principle: Privilege exists in direct proportion to personal responsibility.
Helping your son toward a confrontation with that principle begins with stripping his life down to bare minimum. That would include no discretionary driving privileges (If he has a car, sell it), “disappearing” his cell phone, computer, video game console, iPod, and any other electronics, and significantly lowering his standard of living relative to the family’s. In other words, provide for him only what he absolutely cannot live without. And yes, this reality therapy would begin before the end of this school year, extend through the summer, and into his second year as a junior.
You’ve already taken a major step in this direction by refusing to alter your summer plans so that he can attend summer school. In the first place, summer school is just short of a joke. A child who does nothing more than show up every day and stays awake during instruction will probably be given passing grades. In fact, a child who shows up every day and frequently falls asleep during class will probably be given passing grades. So, no, do not change the plans you’ve made for the summer. Oh, and by the way, if he threatens to drop out, get his GED, and join the Army, your response should be to throw a party.
I am not saying, mind you, that this approach will solve the problem. It may bring about an epiphany; then again, it may not. Your son may shrug off whatever you do. The goal is not to solve the problem, the goal is to represent reality to the greatest degree possible. Anything short of that is enabling.