One of my favorite rock songs of all time (“Hello, I’m John, and I’m a rock ‘n’ roll addict”) is “For What It’s Worth,” written by Stephen Stills and originally recorded by Buffalo Springfield. It begins, “There’s something happening here; what it is ain’t exactly clear….”
That lyric occurred to me as I contemplated the ever-increasing number of stories I am hearing of young children with clothing and food “issues.” Specifically, these kids complain that their clothing itches or feels tight or their food tastes or feels “funny.” Reports of hysteria and throwing up are common.
These complaints and over-the-top behaviors often result in a diagnosis of Sensory Integration Disorder, concerning which there is zero hard evidence verifying the pseudo-scientific claims being made by diagnosing professionals. When they say things like “your child’s brain has difficulty receiving and processing sensory information,” and “your child experiences things like taste and texture differently than does a normal child,” they are throwing darts blindfolded. These claims are unprovable, to say the least.
I don’t particularly relish the taste of some foods but will eat them without complaint if someone else prepares and serves them to me. Does this mean there’s a problem with the wiring in a certain part of my brain? No, it means I am considerate. When it comes to consuming certain foods, the setting, not my tongue, dictates whether I eat them or not. When making those decisions, I take other people’s feelings into consideration. (And by the way, a couple of my sweaters have itchy collars. I pull them on and force my mis-wired brain to get over it.)
Young children are by nature self-centered, meaning they rarely if ever take other people’s feelings into consideration. To a young child, nearly everything is all about The One and Only Almighty Moi. Furthermore, children are soap-opera factories. It is an act of love for one’s neighbors for parents to teach children that their feelings do not rule other people’s behavior (beginning with theirs).
But many if not most of today’s parents are not impressing that understanding on their children. Instead, they regard their children’s feelings as valid, meaningful expressions of inner psychological states that they must strive to understand and affirm. In their view, failing to do so may bring on a psychological apocalypse.
Ironically, because they try to understand and affirm what is essentially irrational – their children’s self-centered and hyperactive emotional expressions – said well-intentioned parents wind up bringing on one psychological apocalypse after another. (For the record, a child’s emotional expressions are not all irrational…only most.)
Because of mental-health propaganda, today’s parents take this stuff seriously. And so, instead of saying, at the first complaint of itchy clothes or “funny-tasting” food, “You’re going to wear/eat it anyway, end of discussion,” today’s parents begin jumping around like manic marionettes trying to make life perfect for their little darlings. This is, after all, what good parenting is all about in the new millennium.
The following is axiomatic: When parents assign credence to every emotion a child puts out there, he will quickly develop what I call Affective Basket-Case Disorder. He learns, after all, that if he acts like he is having an ABCD episode, his parents will change their behavior and revise their expectations.
Under the circumstances, the child suffers because people who are driven by emotion are not happy people. His parents also suffer because living with a person with ABCD – no matter the person’s age – is highly stressful. Invariably, the child’s parents begin acting like emotional basket-cases, about which they feel significant guilt, thus further overloading their already-overloaded emotional baskets.
Yep, there’s something happening here all right, but I happen to think it’s perfectly clear. Fifty or so years ago, the mental health community persuaded parents that children had a right to express their (mostly irrational) feelings freely. It’s been an increasingly chaotic downhill ride ever since.
Public Schools in Decline Thanks to Discipline Fads
For the record, I believe in the concept of public (aka, taxpayer-funded, government, “free”) schools. I attended public schools and obtained an excellent education that challenged my intellect and imparted a broad understanding of the world and my place in it. I am forever grateful to my teachers. Some were more likeable than others, but they were all dedicated to their craft and mission.
I began having misgivings concerning public education during my kids’ school years. The schools they attended were less than challenging and often driven, it seemed, by educational fad (e.g., outcome-based education, open classrooms, new math). In addition, parents and teachers – the latter, mostly – were beginning to tell me stories of classroom discipline debacles of a sort that I never saw or even heard of when I was a student. Since then – over the past forty years, that is – the discipline problems teachers are expected to deal with have only gotten worse, by much.
The further problem is that over that same time, teachers have been slowly but surely stripped of permission to punish. According to educational and psychological ideologues, punishment is demeaning, lowers self-esteem, leads invariably to resentment, and other things it is and does not. Research done by social scientists who possess an abundance of objectivity – increasingly hard to find – contradicts all the politically-correct propaganda pertaining to punishment.
In a nutshell, the best research finds that mild-to-moderate punishment works far better than any alternative (rewarding, ignoring, talking) at correcting misbehavior; that the most obedient kids are also the happiest; and that the highest student achievement is associated with teachers who employ moderate criticism and create teacher-centric classrooms.
Characteristic of an ideology-driven institution is a blind eye to facts that do not affirm the ideology in question. Concerning America’s public education system, that description seems to fit. Consider the following statement from a teacher, who echoes the complaint of nearly every public-school teacher to whom I’ve spoken of late:
“We are told we need to ‘understand their behavior’ and use ‘restorative justice’ to help a student through a bad behavior episode....NO consequence should be given for the behavior because it is a ‘teaching moment.’ How do we get the education system to realize that coddling kids is not the answer?”
First, the attempt to “understand” the circumstances and motives surrounding a child’s misbehavior is a form of enabling in which an adult helps a child construct a justification of one sort or another for an offense. The assignment of blame must be avoided at all cost because, theoretically, the perpetrator is as much a victim as the actual victim. He’s wrestling with “issues,” supposedly. Restorative justice – offender-victim reconciliation – is the logical outgrowth of that counter-productive process. Mind you, restorative justice is the default approach even when the victim is a teacher. In the Brave New World of the American public school, teachers and students are equals and students rate their teachers based largely on how well they succeed at being liked.
Eventually, ideologies run out of new ideas and begin recycling old ones under new nomenclature, and so it is with this supposedly cutting-edge approach to school discipline: it is nothing more than a new spin on the “I’m okay, you’re okay” silliness that took America by storm in the late 1960s. Combine restorative justice with academic relativism – there being several equally correct ways to spell “alphabet,” for example (red ink lowers self-esteem, doncha know?) – and the inevitable result is ever-increasing classroom (and intellectual) anarchy.
This explains why so many people who were once very good teachers are now working in the private sector, where the meritocracy and common sense continue to prevail, albeit hanging on for dear life.
The AAP on Discipline
The prestigious American Academy of Pediatrics has just released (November 2018) a policy statement claiming that "Aversive disciplinary strategies, including all forms of corporal punishment and yelling at or shaming children, are minimally effective in the short-term and not effective in the long-term. With new evidence, researchers link corporal punishment to an increased risk of negative behavioral, cognitive, psychosocial, and emotional outcomes for children."
The question begs, “Which researchers, exactly?” to which the answer is “Researchers who bring an ideological bias to the issue and whose research, therefore, does not qualify as science.”
Note how the AAP disingenuously lumps yelling at and shaming children – which no rational person would endorse – with spanking, which more than forty years of research done by individuals who have meticulously maintained their objectivity has found to be a valid and non-harmful disciplinary option when (a) not used as the primary disciplinary method, (b) administered moderately (two or three swats to the buttocks with open hand as opposed to belts, switches, and so on, and (c) administered by parents who love their children unconditionally.
In the 1970s, the AAP decided to use the research of one individual – Murray Straus of the Family Research Laboratory, University of New Hampshire – who was later credibly accused of bias by his very own research assistant as the gold standard when it came to the issue of disciplinary spanking. Since then, it has stubbornly turned a blind eye to any research that contradicts their no-spanking-under-any-circumstances position.
The research in question finds, for example, that children who are occasionally spanked by loving parents score higher on measures of overall well-being than children who are never spanked. Also noteworthy is the fact as the percentage of parents who spank has declined significantly, so has the mental health of America’s children. That doesn’t mean that spanking is essential to childhood mental health, mind you, but it does mean that the AAP is not taking all the available evidence into consideration.
The AAP supports groups that advocate for anti-spanking legislation – groups like End Physical Punishment of Children and the World Health Organization – which would make it a crime for a parent to spank. Again, the blind eye is turned to findings by objective researchers (Diana Baumrind, Robert Larzelere) to the effect that when parents are prohibited (or prohibit themselves) from spanking, child abuse actually increases.
In effect, the AAP believes that government bureaucrats should be the final authorities on what forms of discipline parents should be allowed. Significant in this regard is the AAP’s broad indictment of any form of discipline that is “aversive,” meaning punitive. By sanctioning only “positive” forms of discipline (i.e., praise and reward), the AAP subtly and arrogantly claims the moral high ground. To paraphrase Elbert Hubbard (1856 – 1915), “If you cannot answer a man’s arguments, all is not lost; you can always demonize your opponent.”
The American College of Pediatricians was formed in 2002 by a group of physicians – including a former AAP president – concerned that the AAP was abandoning scientific objectivity and embracing political correctness when it came to social issues that impact child rearing and the family. The ACP’s response to the AAP’s policy statement – Spanking: A Valid Option for Parents (November 7, 2018) – is well worth reading. It can be accessed at https://www.acpeds.org/spanking-a-valid-option-for-parents.
9-Year-Old Daughter Says She Doesn't Like School
Q: Our 9-year-old daughter recently announced to us that she doesn’t like school, doesn’t want to go, and doesn’t want to do the work. We’ve been unable to get a coherent reason out of her and her third-grade teacher tells us that she seems well-adjusted, has friends, and is doing above-average work, which is probably her best. She usually makes this complaint during homework time, when she encounters a difficult problem or doesn’t readily understand some explanation I’ve given. Lately, however, her complaints have become more frequent, anytime the subject of school comes up. We’ve tried to figure out what the problem is, but to no avail. She has no explanation other than “I just don’t.” Do you have any ideas or suggestions?
A: I have two suggestions, both of which may seem counterintuitive, but both of which are based on solid research:
First, stop talking to your daughter about her attitude toward school and schoolwork. Research in the field of neuro-linguistics predicts that the more you discuss her dislike of school, trying to get to the bottom of it, the more she will complain of disliking school, and the more convinced she will become that she has valid reasons for not liking school. The same is true, by the way, concerning repeated discussions of irrational childhood fears, self-deprecating remarks like “I’m ugly” and “No one likes me,” and threats of self-harm.
At some point, the proper response is “We’ve talked about that enough. I’ve said all I have to say about it. We’re not going to talk about it anymore.” Talking, however well-intentioned, can transform a random comment (Let’s face it, folks, at some point, nearly all children complain of not liking school, being irrationally afraid of something, not liking themselves, being unpopular, and so on) into a drama.
The value of talking about a problem has been overblown of late. Talking, like most things that are initially beneficial, carries with it a point of diminishing returns. When that point is reached, talking becomes counter-productive. Having an audience, someone who will listen sympathetically to complaint, is a powerful thing (which is something even some therapists fail to understand).
Second, stop helping your daughter with her homework. The latest research – which I review in my book Helping Your Child Succeed in School (2014) – confirms what I’ve been saying for more than thirty years: to wit, parents who help with homework run a strong risk of depressing their children’s academic performance. According to the research in question, that’s true regardless of a parent’s education or the ability level of the child in question. Occasional, time-limited help is fine, but anything more than infrequent, brief homework consultations – as in, sitting with a child while homework is being done – is likely to stimulate complaints of “I can’t!”
Said another way, the more parents help with homework, the more evidence children give that they need help with their homework. It’s that audience thing again.