John Rosemond December 2018 Columns
Copyright 2018, John K. Rosemond
Simple Solutions for Teens, Tantrums and Smartphones
Q: Our 15-year-old daughter is very demanding and, to be honest, self-centered. One of the things she does is ask one of us for something and demand an instant decision, as in, “Can I go to the mall with my friends?” If she doesn’t get the right answer, she begins to yell and become disrespectful and/or she goes to the other parent (in person, phone, text), but cleverly fails to tell him/her of the first parent’s decision. That, of course, causes tension and sometimes conflict between the two of us. We feel caught between a rock and a hard place. If we tell her that she must wait on a decision until the two of us can collaborate, she begins to throw a temper tantrum. On the other hand, if one of us makes a unilateral decision, we often regret it. Any suggestions to help us resolve this?
A: Yep. First, make a list of “permissions” that the two of you agree upon, that don’t require collaboration. Henceforth, either of you can make any one of those decisions unilaterally. When the list is complete, share it with your daughter, making perfectly clear (or as perfectly clear as is possible with a teenager who is demanding and disrespectful) that any item not on the pre-approved list requires collaboration. Tell her that if she can’t wait until collaboration is possible, the default answer is “no.” Inform her, furthermore, that yelling or any other form of disrespect means that “no” is the automatic answer to any and all requests for a week. That ought to do it.
Q: We have discovered that our 14-year-old son is bragging to the world over social media of exploits – even of a sexual nature – that he’s never experienced. We took away his phone privileges for a week, but that hasn’t stopped it. Help!
A: Given the well-known fact that smart phones enable irresponsible behavior in many if not most teens, I fail to comprehend the rationale behind otherwise intelligent adults giving them smart phones. There is, in fact, no rationale; there is only nonsense like “Well, that’s how they communicate” and “Let’s face it, their social lives depend on smart phones” and “I want us to be able to get in touch should an emergency arise.”
I know of plenty of teens who do not have smart phones. Instead, they have “Model A” phones that do not connect to the internet; phones that will call and text (laboriously) only. Without exception, said teens are not suffering socially. They may be at times inconvenienced, but they are not suffering. They are somewhat behind the information curve in their peer group, but they are not socially isolated. Albeit not happy with that one aspect of their lives, they are not clinically depressed. Can someone please explain to me why it is bad for a parent to say to a child, “So, if I understand you correctly, you’re telling me your life’s not just as you would have it; in which case, all I have to say is ‘welcome to the real world, kiddo.’”
Let’s face it, folks. Smart phones create problems for parents. At the least, and even in the case of children who only use them responsibly, they make extra work for parents. Can someone please explain to me why, when an alternative exists, otherwise clear-thinking parents would choose to make extra work for themselves?
C’mon. Stop fooling around with this. In your son’s hand, a smart phone becomes instantly toxic. Take his phone away…for good. Give him a “Model A.” Tell him he can have a smart phone when he’s living on his own and can pay for it and the monthly bill. That will certainly motivate him to emancipate as early as possible, which is certainly a win-win.
One Reason Why Marriages Go Bad: Postnatal Marital Amnesia
Just about every marriage has its share of bad times; then again, some marriages simply go bad. The reasons for the latter include abuse, adultery, alcoholism (and other forms of chemical self-indulgence, aka addiction), and emotional and/or physical abandonment. Not to say that any one of those can’t be overcome, but they are four of the top five reasons why some marriages arrive at a point where there’s no going back.
I can’t think of (or find) an A-word for the fifth reason; therefore, I’ve invented a new disorder (it’s what psychologists do, after all): post-natal marital amnesia, or PNMA. A recent column of mine on the need for the marriage to “rule,” in every sense, prompted a flood of emails, letters, and even a few phone calls testifying to the contemporary ubiquity of PNMA.
Take, for example, the fellow who was essentially abandoned by his wife when their live-in young adult daughter gave birth out of wedlock. Wife flipped into full grandmother mode and that was that. Or the stepmom who, when her husband’s teenage daughter visits for a weekend, takes her pre-teen daughter (likewise, from a first marriage) and herself to a hotel so as not to experience her stepdaughter’s disrespect and depraved behavior (said child enjoys telling her younger stepsister about her sexual exploits) that dad, by his own admission, pretty much ignores for fear of upsetting her.
On and on went these tales of woe. One failed or failing marriage after another brought about by misplaced priorities; to wit, otherwise clear-thinking adults who’d rather have a wonderful relationship with a child than with their spouses.
Some of these otherwise clear-thinking adults might say their marriages were on the rocks, slowly coming undone, before the child-idol in question arrived on the scene. Sorry, but that’s no excuse. Take it from someone who’s been married for fifty years (to the same woman as opposed to some cumulative figure), when bad stuff happens in a marriage, the responsible thing to do is focus on fixing it. Avoiding marital problems by taking refuge in relationship with a child or children is cowardly, dishonest, and immature.
People my age often talk with one another about the problems we see today’s young parents creating for themselves. We talk amongst ourselves because most of us have learned, the hard way, that relatively rare is the young parent who will listen to us much less take our advice concerning child-rearing matters. One thing most of us observe is parents making idols of children. This idol-making takes numerous forms, one of which is posting daily photos of a child on some social media platform, accompanied by the day’s report of the child’s latest accomplishments (“Tiffany went down the slide at the park for the first time today!”), which no one should be deprived of knowing (and which all point to nascent genius of one sort or another).
Two such idol-makers can make a go of it (until their last idol leaves home at which point all bets are off), but when one parent has made an idol of a child and the other understands and practices the difference between love and idolatry, well, uh-oh. I call it the child-centered divorce. In a way, the divorce simply makes official what has been the case for some time: to wit, PNMA.
As children, people my age or thereabouts were not fussed over, bragged about, or made idols of. It was obvious, furthermore, that our parents had much, much more of a relationship with one another than they had with us. We understand, therefore, that the benefit to a child of being merely loved and disciplined well, as opposed to idolized, is inestimable.
I certainly didn’t know it when I was a young parent, but I know it now: The past is the greatest of all teachers, and the greatest teachers, furthermore, always possess great respect for the past.
Parenting of the Past Is Better Than Today
A Wisconsin pediatrician wants his newspaper to eject my column, giving as one of his complaints that I hew “to the idea that the world of the 1950s was the be-all and end-all of parenting/childrearing, and that if we were to return to that era with the good-old practices of our grandparents, our children would reap the benefits.” The good doctor then claims that my traditionalist point of view is not supported by evidence. As “evidence” that his assessment of me is correct, he refers to Huffington Post review of one of my books in which the reviewer claims that I do not believe child and teen suicide, gender-identity issues, or drug abuse existed in the 1950s, all of which is news to me.
It is, I realize, difficult for people born after 1965, roughly, to wrap their heads around the idea that there were, in fact, things about America’s past that were better than they are today. The political climate, for one thing. Childrearing, for another. Is there a body of statistical and research-based evidence that would support the retro-notion that what is now called “parenting” was far more functional – for child, parent, school, and culture – pre-1960s than it has been since?
There most certainly is. In fact, there is not one statistic that would support the notion that today’s parenting is guided by more enlightened ideas.
For one, the child and teen suicide rate per capita is estimated to be at least ten times greater today than it was in the 1950s. That happens to be a reliable marker of child mental health, and I doubt that any reasonable person would argue that how a child is parented significantly affects his or her mental health One of the questions I routinely ask people in my generation is “Do you recall a high school classmate committing suicide?” I have yet to encounter someone who possesses said memory. That some children did commit suicide in the 1950s is undeniable, but relatively speaking, it was rare.
The research of Diana Baumrind, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of California – Berkeley, finds that parents who adhere, today, to a traditional parenting ethic, emphasizing unconditional love and firm discipline, raise the most well-adjusted children.
Baumrind and her research partner, Robert Larzelere of Oklahoma State University, have found that children who are occasionally spanked by responsible, loving parents, score higher on measures of well-being than children whose parents do not spank. Mind you, that does not mean spanking is essential to raising a well-adjusted child. It means that parents who spank on occasion – as did the typical 1950s parent – are likely to possess greater confidence in their authority than parents who do not spank or who spank liberally and indiscriminately. The fact is, children need unequivocal authority as much as they do unconditional love.
In the 1950s, during which I was in elementary school, it was not unusual to find an elementary teacher presiding, on her own, over a classroom of more than forty children. That made it difficult to impossible to give children individual attention. Many of us, including yours truly, came to first grade not knowing our ABCs. Mothers who routinely helped their children with their homework were “unheard of.” Yet we outperformed today’s kids at every grade level. The very rare child brought to school behavior problems of the sort that are legion in today’s classrooms (which belies the notion that these “disorders” are genetically-transmitted).
The overwhelming preponderance of evidence is on my side: For reasons that have to do with a generally-held parental attitude as opposed to any given disciplinary method, parenting outcomes in the 1950s were better by far than they are today. And make no mistake about it, the attitude in question works no less well today. If it did not, this column would not be forty-two years in the writing.
I also believe classic rock from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s is vastly superior to anything being done today. Anyone want to take me on about that?
Separating Feelings From Facts
Rosemond’s Pithy Philosophical Snippet of the Week: Crazy is believing that feelings – yours and other’s – define and should therefore govern external reality.
It is one thing to say, “Randolph really covets Humbert’s jacket and wishes it was his.” It is quite another to say, “Because Randolph covets Humbert’s jacket and wishes it was his, Humbert should not be allowed to wear said jacket where Randolph might see him wearing it.” The former is a statement of fact, however subjective, concerning Randolph. The person making the latter statement, however, obviously thinks feelings – in this case, Randolph’s – should govern some external reality. That’s just crazy.
Apparently, Randolph’s jacket and jackets like it have caused the adults who run Woodchurch High School in Northwest England to go temporarily insane – we hope, at least, that it is temporary.
Said WHS adults – administrators, teachers, and who knows whom else – have banned students from wearing certain expensive jackets to school because that causes other students who cannot afford them to feel bad (i.e. to experience feelings of covetousness and jealousy); as such, say WHS administrators, wearing the jackets in question is a form of bullying. No kidding. Wearing an expensive jacket that other kids’ parents can’t afford is the equivalent of purposefully tripping another kid, thus causing him to fall down a flight of stairs, breaking several bones.
Perhaps Brexit has something to do with it, but the Brits seem to be having difficulty separating feelings from facts these days. Another example involves journalism professors at Leeds Trinity University in West Yorkshire, England. Said profs have been instructed to not use the word “don’t” in class lest student snowflakes be caused debilitating anxiety, be unable to complete assignments, fail, become homeless, and bring on the Apocalypse. The same, by the way, goes for professors using capital letters for emphasis (e.g. YGBKM!). I love British humor, but I’m worried they may be losing it.
In fact, this sort of madness has been building in England since the founding of Summerhill School in 1921. On its website, Summerhill is described as “a democratic, self-governing school in which the adults and children have equal status…each child being able take their own path in life and following their own interests to develop into the person that they personally feel that they are meant to be. This leads to an inner self-confidence and real acceptance of themselves as individuals.” Isn’t that just lovely? Meaningless, inane, and stupid, but lovely nonetheless.
In the late 1960s – from which all current forms of madness in America derive – Summerhill was held up as the ideal to which American education should aspire. One expression of this was the so-called “open classroom/school” where the student was a bold explorer and the teacher was a mere facilitator. In first grade, my son attended an open school. After nine months of bold exploring and being facilitated, he didn’t even know his ABCs.
Here’s what I’d like to point out to the folks at Woodchurch High: If you ban clothes that cost more than, say, 200 euros (or pounds, as the case may soon be) then certain students begin coveting items of clothing that cost more than 150 euros/pounds and those will need to be banned. The logical end of this is that WHC bans clothing altogether. Eventually, it becomes Woodchurch Home for Permanently Deranged Former High School Administrators. That tragedy could be averted by simply mandating that all students wear uniforms. But that’s commonsense, which is de facto banned at WHC.
As for Leeds Trinity University, the solution to young adults who cannot tolerate the word “don’t” or acronyms is to send them to Summerhill where they may or may not learn their ABCs but their feelings concerning themselves will always be affirmed…which is why they can’t tolerate the word “don’t” in the first place.
We can only hope that this madness will cease when Brexit is finally resolved.