John Rosemond March 2018 Columns
Copyright 2017, John K. Rosemond
Yes, I Am "Old-Fashioned"
An individual who occupies a fairly high-level position in the mainstream media recently told one of my associates that I’m “old-fashioned.” She meant it as a slight, but I hardly took it that way. I do, in fact, espouse a child-rearing philosophy and approach that prevailed when I was a child. To my media critic, I’m a throwback.
When I came out of graduate school in 1972, I was thoroughly indoctrinated in psychological parenting theory and convinced that pre-1960s parenting had compromised child mental health; that it had to go; that its demise would bring about a childhood utopia upon which we – I’d been a radical student activist, progressive to the core – could build a brave new world.
Two wake-up calls came in 1979. I realized, courtesy of my supervisor at the Charlotte (NC) Mental Health Center that clinical psychology, for all of its scientific pretenses, was an ideology that cared little to nothing for research that contradicted its icons and idols. The second came when my son’s very rational third-grade teacher told me that he was the worst-behaved child she had seen in twenty years of teaching.
That caused my wife and I to reverse course and begin raising our children the way we ourselves had been raised: chores, a minimum of after-school activities, the unwavering assignment of personal responsibility, and discipline that was less talk and more action. The results were nothing short of amazing. Within three months, our son had gone from being a classroom sociopath to being, in that same teacher’s words, “a model student.”
I’ve been espousing a retro-parenting message ever since, becoming, along the way, evermore convinced that my profession has caused more problems for children, parents, families, schools, and culture than psychologists know how to solve. I miss no opportunity to say exactly that, which has not endeared me to my colleagues (albeit there are those who somewhat secretly agree with me).
I’m old-fashioned (as opposed to progressive) because I care about research, and the research is clear that emotional resilience, the essence of good mental health, the ability to deal functionally with disappointment and failure, resides best in children raised by parents who adhere, whether wittingly or not, to the pre-1960s paradigm: a whole lot of love and a whole lot of unwavering, unequivocal authority.
I’m old-fashioned because the new paradigm, built on the shifting sands of unproven and even disproven psychological theory, has informed a ten-fold worsening of child and teen mental health since the 1960s. I’m old-fashioned because the old way taught children, within their families, what good citizenship was all about: to wit, respect for and service to others. The new way, by contrast, emphasized esteem for the Almighty Self.
The goal of infusing children with high self-esteem has proven to be a complete bust. No good – zero, zilch, nada – has come of it. In fact, it just might factor highly into the psychology of the typical school shooter. We know, for example, that women in relationships with high-self-esteem males are in significant danger of emotional and physical abuse. I’m old-fashioned because I absolutely know that high self-esteem is a problem, not a solution to a problem.
I’m old-fashioned because the nouveau approach to discipline – based on what I call “consequence-delivery-systems” – has completely failed. I’m old-fashioned because I absolutely know that behavior modification does not work on human beings, that the proper discipline of a child is accomplished with a certain attitude, not certain methods.
My media critic also claims that I appeal primarily to grandparents. She should come to one of my speaking engagements, where the word that best describes the age range represented in my audiences is one she surely appreciates: diversity.
Choose One: High Achievement or Good Morals
Parents of children who habitually lie can breathe a huge sigh of relief – The New York Times says that budding Pinocchios are more intelligent than kids who tell the truth (“Is Your Child Lying to You? That’s Good,” Alex Stone, January 5, 2018). The Grey Lady’s announcement is based on studies done in the 1980s in which young children who disobeyed an instruction and then denied having disobeyed were discovered to have higher IQs than those who admitted disobedience. A subsequent study found that most adults cannot tell when children are lying, a finding that seems – on the surface, at least – to confirm the previous study.
The question, of course, becomes: Does perfecting the art of lying make a child smarter or does being smart lend itself to lying? Which comes first, dishonesty or a high IQ? Your author will not attempt to unravel that puzzle. I will, however, mention that people who habitually lie are known as sociopaths. As adults, a fair number of them spend time in prison for doing such things as embezzling from their employers or conning elderly people out of their life savings.
So, whereas the NYT sees it as good news that some children become inveterate liars at an early age, teaching a child to lie in the hopes he or she will become smarter as a result is not recommended. Unfortunately, today’s parenting culture seems to put a higher premium on a high IQ than it does morality. Consider that one regularly sees bumper stickers advertising children’s academic achievements – you know, that “My Child Is an Honor Student at Cutabove Academy” thing, but none that publicize children’s moral sturdiness, as in, “My Child May Not Be the Sharpest Knife in the Drawer, But She Is Polite and Hard-Working.” How many parents do you know who have enrolled their kids in after-school tutoring in manners? It would appear that a good number of today’s parents are more concerned with achievement than character.
The guilty parties would never admit it, of course. If asked, “Given the choice, would you rather that your child make straight A’s or always tell the truth and strive to never hurt another person’s feelings?” they will lie. Which is sociopathic. Which may go a long way toward explaining why some straight-A kids are incorrigible liars, or vice versa.
The New York Times piece also mentions research finding that punishment does not deter, much less rehabilitate, most childhood liars. That’s consistent with my experience. The thrill of getting away with a lie seems to greatly outweigh any possibility of negative consequences. The same researchers recommend what they term positive messaging – emphasizing the benefits of honesty rather than threatening punishment. That certainly won’t hurt, but I’m skeptical of its long-term value.
Not surprisingly, money “talks” to the aspiring sociopath, says the NYT. When compensated sufficiently, young liars will tell the truth. That fails to justify the immorality of paying for morality. Another way of saying the same thing: Paying a sociopath to not behave like a sociopath is sociopathic. Furthermore, the researchers in question failed to say that paying for honesty brought about permanent transformation; therefore, it is safe to say it did not.
What does? Well, I don’t think any one solution fits all kids, but here’s an interesting story: Two parents once told me they successfully fought fire with fire. They began lying about everything and anything – what was for dinner, what movie they were going to, that they were going to raise his allowance – to their nine-year-old aspiring sociopath. No morality lectures, mind you, simply lie after lie after lie. This went on for several weeks before he “got it” and begged them to stop. They did, promising more of the same if he relapsed. He’s been lie-free for three years now.
Your great-grandparents called it “reverse psychology.” They were right about most things parenting. The NYT, however, is not.