John Rosemond January 2018 Columns
Copyright 2018, John K. Rosemond
Are College Visits Necessary?
Q: Our 17-year-old daughter wants to begin visiting colleges. She’s a high-school junior this year and this is when the college visitations begin. We’re feeling like the Grinches Who Stole College Visitations because neither of us feel there’s any value to this practice. We fail to understand how walking among and through buildings that all begin to look the same after a while and hearing a sales pitch from someone whose job depends on persuading an impressionable teen that the college he works for is a perfect fit for a teen he doesn’t know is going to result in said teen making a rational decision. Our friends think we’re neglecting our parental duties. We’re expecting a visit from child protective services any day now. Help us out here. What are your thoughts on this?
A: I’m going to assume that neither of your parents took you on these fascinating excursions or you would have more of an appreciation for their inestimable value.
Sarcasm aside (for the moment), I’m on the same page with you. When we were on the downhill slope of high school, neither my wife nor I visited any college campuses. We looked at brochures – no Internet then, remember – talked to our high school counselors, friends, and people who’d attended the colleges that interested us, made a choice, obtained our parents’ approval, and went merrily off to college.
Taking a cue from our rather libertarian parents, we did not take our children on college visitations either. We simply told them to pick an in-state college because that is where they were going for at least the first two years. They applied (without our help), got accepted, and off they went. Furthermore, they graduated from the colleges they chose without ever visiting them.
Is there evidence that these costly visits are helping students make rational decisions? No, none, nada, zilch, zero. More students than ever are dropping out of college during or immediately after their (usually disastrous) first year. According to some articles, it’s a crisis. I’m going to get out on a very short limb here, but I’ll bet there is a statistical correspondence between the increase in college visitations by high school students and the increase in the freshman dropout rate.
A mom recently told me that after she and her daughter visited ten colleges during her junior year of high school, the daughter decided to go to such-and-such college. When I asked the basis for her daughter’s decision, the mother answered, “She said she just got a good feeling when she was there.”
A good feeling? I felt like screaming, “You have got to be kidding me!!! You are actually going to agree to send your daughter to that very expensive college because she got a certain FEELING as she walked around, looking at the buildings??? Was she especially drawn to the color of the brick or what???” But I didn’t.
This parent-child college visitation phenomenon is yet another manifestation of parent “involvement” – of what I call Cuisinart parenting. In case the reader is puzzling over the term, Cuisinart parenting is one step above helicopter parenting. It is being a part of every decision one’s child makes – blended in, if you will – from the time the child is a toddler, including making decisions a child should make for himself. It begins, by the way, with play dates and just keeps on rolling. Twenty years later, many of these same parents are attending their kids’ post-college job interviews.
Concerning any given college, the necessary information, including lots of impressive photos, is online. I advise simply telling teens to research the colleges that interest them and go through the application process on their own. It’s a topic for another column, but my feeling is that a young person who can’t fill out a college application without Mommy and Daddy’s help isn’t college material in the first place.
Connecting Dots Unsettling to Some
My critics are providing me much material of late for this column and my weekly radio show (Saturdays, 6:00 ET, AFR). Most recently, a family therapist in Kentucky pleads with the Lexington Herald-Leader to stop running my column (“Stop Rosemond,” Letters, December 28, 2017), citing my “dangerous” belief that ADHD and other childhood behavior problems are not mental illnesses. According to Susan Bell, I “have not learned anything new in (my) nearly 50 years of advising parents.” Furthermore, she says, other mental health professionals share her opinion of me. She’s right about that, but wrong otherwise.
To begin with, I have learned a great deal over the past fifty years, not the least of which is that psychiatric/psychological diagnoses are not tangible realities; rather, they are constructs. Cancer is a verifiable reality. A physician who diagnoses lung cancer can provide concrete proof – e.g. a biopsy – to support his verdict. But a mental health professional who diagnoses a child with, say, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder can provide no such verification. If asked to prove that the child “has” something, said professional will claim that the symptoms – short attention span, impulsivity, and so on – constitute the proof. That is equivalent to saying that a productive cough is proof of lung cancer and that said cough is all the evidence one needs to begin chemotherapy.
An illness is a biological condition of one sort or another. No research has ever proven that any childhood behavior problem is inherited or caused by faulty biology. Nonetheless, parents of children diagnosed with ADHD and other behavior disorders are often told that their kids have inherited biochemical imbalances. Is genetic testing done to verify heritability? Have the genes been identified? No, and no.
The same is true concerning the assertion that the chemicals in these kids’ central nervous systems are out of balance. No physical testing is done to support this claim, and no researcher has ever quantified said imbalance. The reason is simple: To speak with authority about an imbalance in a system, one must first precisely quantify a state of balance. As concerns the central nervous system, no one has ever accomplished that feat, which is why a leading psychiatrist has admitted that the term is “nothing but a useful metaphor.” His admission begs the question: How is it useful? Answer: The biochemical imbalance canard is useful in persuading parents to administer to their children potentially dangerous drugs that have never reliably outperformed placebos in clinical trials.
Ms. Bell asserts that I am alone in concluding that “there is no such thing as mental illness in children.” Not true. A growing number of medical and mental health professionals, researchers and practitioners alike, are coming to the same conclusion: to wit, the only verifiable aspect of these diagnoses are the defining behaviors. No one has found any underlying physical processes that would account for them. Ms. Bell then accuses me of asserting that the behaviors in question are caused by parents who are guilty of “spoiling their children.” Bell would do well to read my book, The Diseasing of America’s Children, written with a well-known behavioral and developmental pediatrician. I say no such thing.
The problem is not parents, albeit only they can solve these problems, one household at a time. To do so, they must unplug from professional parenting advice (and yes, I’m aware of the irony of a professional parenting pundit giving such counsel) and restore common sense, high expectations, and firm discipline to their child rearing. As researchers are discovering (belatedly), emotional resilience is more essential to a life well-led than high self-esteem, straight A’s and a plethora of trophies.
In the 1960s, American parents began looking to mental health professionals for child-rearing advice. Since then, an exponential per-capita increase in child mental health professionals has matched a dramatic deterioration in child mental health. No new therapy or drug has stopped this downward trend. The fact that I connect these dots is understandably unsettling to a lot of people in my field.
Today's Parents Don't Know How to Properly Convey Authority
Four sentences into her Wall Street Journal article on recent research into spanking (“Spanking for Misbehavior? It Causes More!” December 17, 2017), the author, Susan Pinker, makes two grievous errors: first, she says that children under 7 cannot master their emotions; second, she says a fair amount of misbehavior on the part of a young child distinguishes him from a robot.
So, here we go again with a typical post-1960s parenting canard: proper discipline, which should indeed instill reasonably good emotional control into children as young as 4, turns children into unquestioning robots. I heard this claptrap in graduate school, courtesy of my professors, most of whom were enamored with new ideas concerning children. I truly thought it had run its course.
Ms. Pinker references a 2016 survey found that two-thirds of American parents are in favor of at least occasional spankings – “hard” ones, even. According to her, that’s bad news because another 2016 study – a meta-analysis of five decades of research into spanking – found that spanking is associated with increased “acting out” and future mental health problems. Now, in fairness, Pinker admits that these correlations do not prove a cause-effect relationship. But she is then quick to point out that a new study from the University of Texas, Austin, strengthens the argument that spankings actually cause future psychological and behavior problems.
It is interesting to note that a meta-analysis of fifty years of media coverage of spanking would certainly find that the mainstream media has been quick to publish any research that maligns spanking but has consistently turned a blind eye to research by credible, respected researchers like Diana Baumrind (UC-Berkley) and Robert Larzelere (Oklahoma State) finding that occasional, moderate spankings by loving parents (operative conditions), is associated with not only better behavior but also improved psychological well-being.
Having said that, I’ve taken a close look at UTA’s study and truth be told have no problem with its basic finding. First, I think most parents who spank make a mess of it and accomplish nothing. Since they accomplish nothing, the behavior problems for which they are spanking continue to worsen. Second, as research finds and common sense confirms, disobedient children are not happy children. So, it makes perfect sense that researchers find that spanking is associated with both increased misbehavior and later mental health problems.
But that is not an indictment of spanking; not, at least, unless the researcher in question set out intending to malign it. Being a social scientist myself, I can attest that most social “science” simply finds what the researcher expected, even wanted, to find, meaning that most social scientists are not scientists; rather, they are ideologues.
In my estimation, the real problem is that today’s parents, by and large, do not know how to properly convey authority. They think authority is expressed by using proper consequences. So, they attempt to discipline by manipulating reward and punishment. That works with dogs, but it does not work very well at all with human beings, the only species with free will. Under the circumstances, behavior problems worsen, parental stress builds, and emotion-driven and therefore completely botched spankings become increasingly likely.
The conveyance of authority is accomplished via a proper attitude, not proper methods. The characteristics of the attitude in question – calm, confident composure – are universal leadership qualities. That attitude is what causes a child to invest complete trust in his parents, even if they occasionally spank him.
Love Is Necessary to the Proper Discipline of a Child
In Raleigh, North Carolina, on the backside of the Department of Education building is a structure known as the Education Wall. Completed in 1992, the EW was conceived and created by artist Vernon Pratt and writer Georgann Eubanks. Engraved into the polished red granite are various messages that presumably reflect my home state’s commitment to children.
One of the messages reads “YOU ARE A CHILD YOU ARE SUITABLE TO BE AWED (sic).” Interestingly, featured on the North Carolina Public Schools Facebook page is this quote from Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr: “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”
The only conclusion one can draw from this inadvertent juxtaposition is that education bureaucrats in North Carolina are confused. On the one hand, they are in awe of children; on the other, they believe children should be taught humility. Reverend King could certainly tell them that a child who believes he or she should be the object of awe is also a child who is unteachable. The awesome child, like the awesome adult, does not possess suitable capacity for self-criticism. The awesome among us do not believe they are capable of error, moral or otherwise.
I am by birth and residence a North Carolinian. Thanks to the EW, I now realize that I was cheated of my birthright by knuckle-dragging miscreants who did not think I was awesome. In fact, I distinctly remember both of my grandmothers telling me, on separate occasions, that I was a “very bad little boy.” (Once upon a time, when child mental health was not, as today, in a state of crisis, adults told children the truth about themselves.) I was informed of my badness not to make me feel worthless, which it did not, but to correct, which it did. My grandmothers, I was sure, loved me. When a person who loves you tells you, as a child, that you are bad, they are telling you because they love you.
I even remember my grandmothers’ tone. It was a combination of sadness and hope. They were not angry with me. They were grieving for me. Despite my inability to articulate any of the above, I understood and resolved to do better. One day, I hope to live up to their standards.
Another saying on the North Carolina Education Wall informs us that “LOVE WORKS WHERE DISCIPLINE FAILED.” This is not philosophy. Philosophers, generally, know that sounding right and being right are often two different horses of two entirely different colors. This is pulp fiction. Unlike the EW’s implication, love is not the antithesis of discipline. In the proper raising of a child, both unconditional love and unequivocal discipline are undeniably necessary. Furthermore, love and discipline are not two different things; rather, they are complements. Love is necessary to the proper discipline of a child and proper discipline is necessary to properly loving a child.
An imbalance in either direction is toxic. Love without an equal measure of discipline defines codependence. A parent who is in a codependent relationship with a child is an enabler, and enabling is toxic to both parties. Likewise, discipline without an equal measure of love eventually becomes abusive in one way or another. No, when it comes to raising and educating a child, love does not succeed where discipline fails. If one fails, both fail.
The Education Wall is located in North Carolina, but the question becomes: Does it reflect a more widespread contagion? Do American educators and educational bureaucrats truly believe in the sort of unmitigated drivel that adorns the EW? If so, then we are all in a heap of a mess, as the authentic North Carolinian might say.
A wall full of my grandmothers’ parenting aphorisms would have been a far better use of taxpayer money.
In Gun Debate, Therapy Is No Substitute for Firm Discipline
We’re a month, more or less, into the new year and America has already suffered two school shootings. As usual, the usual voices are calling for increased restrictions on the buying and selling of guns. But guns are not the problem, a contention I can prove.
In 1963, at age 15, I packed my bags and went to live with my father in Valdosta, GA, where I attended Valdosta High School. Hunting being a primary feature of male culture at VHS, I quickly acquired the necessary gear including a Stevens double-barreled shotgun. During deer- and duck-hunting seasons, I rose well before the start of school and joined several buddies out in the field. After a couple of hours of shooting (or just sitting in a blind and freezing), we put our guns in the trunks of our cars, drove to school, stripped off our hunting duds (under which were clean school clothes), and went to class.
Everyone – including the principal, teachers, parents, and kids who didn’t hunt – knew that the student parking lot contained a small arsenal. No one ever mentioned it, and believe me, it never occurred to any of us that our gun could be used to even some score or vent some frustration. Lots of males in my generation, especially those who grew up in small towns or rural America, report a similar high school experience.
No, guns are not the problem. The problem is feelings. I am a member of the last generation of American children whose parents disciplined not only our behavior, but also insisted that we exercise emotional self-control. I am also a member of the first generation of American parents who fell for progressive psychological propaganda to the effect that insisting upon emotional self-control was repressively authoritarian and would prime our kids for future serious mental health problems.
My graduate school professors stressed the need to help children “get in touch” with their feelings, talk about them, and express them safely. A child’s feelings, I learned, contained deep meaning that needed to be divined, discussed, and properly directed. This was the late 1960s and early 1970s. By the 1980s, children were venting their feelings rather freely all right – including toward parents and teachers – and child mental health was tanking.
Mass school shootings began occurring around the same time and are now taking place, on average, weekly. As I said, guns are the means but the problem is what I term emotional entitlement syndrome – the narcissistic belief that certain feelings are all the excuse one requires to justify anti-social and/or self-destructive behavior.
To widespread emotional entitlement one can add the effects of encouraging high self-esteem (which is associated, we now know, with low respect for the rights and property of others) and the demonization of shame, the primary purpose of conscience. A calamity was sure to ensue, and it has. It includes not only school shootings, but the widespread use of social media as a platform for acting out personal soap operas (i.e., emotional dramas), a dramatic rise in child and teen depression and suicide, cutting, epidemic bullying, and millions of children on psychiatric medications that may cause more problems than they solve (if they solve any).
The great irony in all of this is that psychology, the very profession that manufactured the propaganda that is fueling this calamity, is the very profession to which schools and parents turn whenever it rears its ugly little head.
And so, around and around we go and will continue to go until we figure out that therapy is no substitute for firm discipline.