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.
The Power of Words
When I began reading “The 9 Words Parents Should Never Say to Their Kids” (January 5, 2018, www.fatherly.com), I was skeptical that essayist Patrick Coleman’s point of view would line up with my own, and I wasn’t disappointed. Coleman began by saying that certain words have “overwhelmingly negative consequences” to children but only one of his nefarious nine met my never-say standard.
I don’t know of any mainstream newspaper that would even print the word in question. Furthermore, the sort of parent who would tell a child that he or she is (word in question) isn’t reading this column (nor Coleman’s either); therefore, to even mention it would be superfluous. One must wonder why Coleman even included it, especially given that there are more hurtful derogatories.
So, that leaves eight, seven of which I see no problem with, if used in the proper manner and in the proper context. For example, I would not call a child a “liar” but I would have no problem saying “You lied to me.” The former is character assassination; the second is presumably factual. It’s worth mentioning that Coleman thinks “most kids aren’t being malicious in their lies (sic).” Perhaps he and I hold markedly different definitions of what constitutes being malicious, but it simply is not true that most lies told by children are innocent.
Coleman maintains that telling a girl she is “bossy” is sexist (my term, not his) because that amounts to telling a girl she shouldn’t try to be a leader. I have personal parenting experience with a bossy girl – namely, my daughter when she was a pre-teen. She was experiencing a good deal of social conflict at the time because in play groups it was her way or the highway. When she complained to me about her difficulties, I did not hesitate to tell her that other girls did not appreciate her bossiness. She was not being a group leader; she was being obnoxious. She needed factual feedback from someone who loved her. She finally “got it” and began making lasting friends.
I would not tell a child “You are spoiled,” but I would have no problem telling a child “You are acting spoiled.” The difference, which Coleman fails to make, is significant. Likewise, I would not say “You are stupid” to a child, but “That (something the child did) was fairly stupid” might be entirely appropriate under certain circumstances. Again, the difference is between using a word that maligns a child’s character and using the same word to refer to a specific behavior or instance. The same rule applies to “selfish” and “smart.”
According to Coleman, a boy should not be told he is a “heartbreaker.” That supposedly “gross” term “puts (a boy) in the context of romantic love and sexuality (long before) those things should become a concern (sic)...” and also introduces a boy to the notion that “male gender roles are about power.” Mind you, I think telling a young boy that he’s a heartbreaker is kind of, well, dumb, but I don’t think that particular word contains the apocalyptic power Coleman ascribes to it.
Where Coleman and I really part ways concerns “princess.” He thinks it’s okay for a young girl to imagine herself to be a princess, but parents should not call a girl “princess” because that might “pigeonhole a little girl into a demure, pink, princess box before they’ve (sic) had a chance to explore other avenues of identity.” He swears he’s not talking about “gender fluidity” by the way, but simply saying that the label might restrict a girl’s options. I doubt it. I often called my daughter “princess.” She insists that it did not warp her self-image. She was clear that we were not European royalty. She is still my princess, but she is also still an underling to my queen.
When I was young, like Coleman I took too many things much too seriously. Even so, I would not tell him that he is humorless. That would slander his character. I would, however, tell him that he would do well to lighten up. Come to think of it, I give that same advice to young parents fairly often.
Weighing the Options of Repeating Kindergarten
Q: Even though he had an early-August birthday, we started our son in Kindergarten this past Fall at a private Christian school. They did some testing prior to the start of the school year and told us they thought he would do okay. Now, however, they are telling us that he is “somewhat immature” and would probably benefit from another year in Kindergarten. We’re upset that they accepted him in the first place, but also feel that some of his problems were due to a young and relatively inexperienced teacher. We’re reluctant to hold him back out of concern that doing so may contribute to a negative self-image. Any thoughts?
A: I’d be inclined to cut the school some slack. I can’t imagine that they would have accepted him already knowing he was at high risk of having to repeat. In all likelihood, they simply gave him the benefit of doubt, which I recommend you return to them.
I’m not a fan of the rather widespread practice of postponing school entrance for late-birthday boys. In my estimation, the practice is counterproductive. If starting school is postponed for boys with birthdays after, say, June 1, “immature” boys suddenly become those with birthdays after March 1. Backing up the “not quite ready” date could go on forever. Furthermore, while delaying school entrance may benefit some late-birthday kids, it will be a disservice to others. One’s birthday is not necessarily a reliable indicator of immaturity.
For both reasons, I’m generally in favor of establishing a birthday cut-off of October 1 and admitting to Kindergarten any and all kids whose birthdays fall before that date. Some of the late-birthday crowd (say, after June 1) will need a second “growth year” and some will not. But then, some kids whose birthdays are not late will also need to repeat. Let’s face it, repeating Kindergarten is not apocalyptic.
You may be right that the primary problem is an inexperienced teacher who is not skilled at “herding cats.” Insecurity concerning her classroom authority will certainly compound any immaturity problems, especially with typically highly-active boys. That is, however, water under the proverbial bridge. It may be that your son would not have “made the grade” even with a very experienced teacher.
All things considered, I would lean strongly toward accepting the school’s recommendation. If a “growth year” is called for because of immaturity, and you choose to ignore the recommendation and move him into first grade at another school, there is significant likelihood that he will be identified as “having” attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. I put “having” in quotes because despite mental health propaganda, ADHD is not a physiological reality; rather, it is nothing more than an unscientific, non-objective construct. You do not want to get on that merry-go-round. (For interested readers, I’ve covered this topic in The Diseasing of America’s Children, written with a nationally-known pediatrician.)
My only caveat is that on the assumption that your son’s problems were exacerbated by an inexperienced teacher, you definitely do not want him with her again next year. If the school he’s attending has only one Kindergarten teacher, then I’d recommend that he repeat at another school. That may be a hassle, but it’s worth whatever hassle may be involved, believe me.
You need not be concerned that repeating Kindergarten might constitute a threat to your son’s self-concept. One of my grandchildren repeated Kindergarten. He graduated high school with honors and was admitted to a highly-ranked state university that experiences significant enrollment pressure, where he is doing splendidly.
You merely want to tell your son, very matter-of-factly, that you’ve decided to let him repeat. Reason? “We think it’s best.” The simpler the explanation, the better.