John Rosemond October 2017 Columns
Copyright 2017, John K. Rosemond
Four Things Parents Should Tell Their Kids
In my latest book, Grandma Was Right After All!, I take the top 25 parenting sayings of my youth and explain what they really meant. I do so because they’ve been distorted and demonized by the mental health community as psychologically harmful, which is balderdash given that child mental health is ten times worse today than it was in the 1950s, when their usage was commonplace.
The demonization prize goes to “Because I said so,” which when stated calmly and straightforwardly is nothing more harmful than an affirmation of the legitimacy of parental authority. The long form would be something along the lines of “I provide for your provision and protection; furthermore, I am not your peer. I am your superior in every sense of the term. Therefore, I am not required to, nor will I, justify my decisions and instructions to you. You will obey because that is what I determine will happen, and for no other reason.”
First runner-up goes to “Children should be seen but not heard,” which psychologists claimed reflected a generally negative attitude toward children (mind you, when the number of children per couple was significantly higher than it has been since). Wrong again! As the aphorism makes perfectly clear, the child in question could remain in the room and listen to adult conversation (be seen), but was expected not to interrupt (be heard) – a truly civilized understanding.
Second runner-up goes to “You made this bed, so you’re going to lie in it.” In other words, the child was going to accept complete responsibility for whatever delinquency he had perpetrated. Today, by way of contrast, it is common for the child to make the bed and his parents to lie in it. Or, expressed according to yet another old-fashioned parenting aphorism, today’s parents stew in their children’s “juices.” This flip-flop has occurred as parents have rallied to the idea that they should be “involved,” which is a euphemism for being in enabling, codependent relationships with their kids.
“You’re just a little fish in a big pond” was one of my mother’s favorites. I was, in other words, not the big deal I thought I was or should be. Being told you were a small fish went hand-in-hand with being informed that the world did not revolve around you and you were acting too big for your britches. With the advent of self-esteem babble in the late 1960s, children gradually became Big Fish wearing undersize britches, a condition that benefits no one (but it takes someone my age to clearly understand that high self-esteem is a cultural corrosive).
The all-time favorite of my mother and stepfather was “We knew that if we gave you enough rope, you’d hang yourself.” I have realized in retrospect that my upbringing was very libertarian. I enjoyed a good amount of freedom (a long rope) as long as I accepted as much if not more personal responsibility. The relative balance in that equation prepares a child for proper citizenship; thus, Grandma also said, “Good citizenship begins at home.”
We 1950s kids did not like hearing these things, but then children do not know what they need (they only know what they want). I have yet, however, to meet someone my age who is not thankful for them today. Their restoration, along with the parenting point of view that they reflected, is badly needed by all concerned.
Is Chemotherapy-Induced ADD a Thing?
Q: After two years of chemotherapy for acute lymphocytic leukemia, our 6-year-old daughter is now in remission. We’ve recently noticed she has difficulty focusing and staying on task. Otherwise, she is bright, happy and well-behaved. Her physician told us that chemotherapy involves neurotoxins that can cause focusing issues in children. He referred us to a neuropsychiatrist who administered a five-hour battery of tests, diagnosed ADD and prescribed an ADD drug. After reading you for years, I don't believe that an “illness” called ADD truly exists. But is chemotherapy-induced ADD a valid thing and if so, what do you recommend?
A: Indeed, chemotherapy-induced neurological problems are a verified reality. They include several that are also symptomatic of what has come to be known as ADD or ADHD.
The symptoms in question – known as “chemo-brain” – include lowered IQ as well as memory, attention span, focusing, and hand-eye coordination problems. In adults, this symptom cluster is associated with strokes, Alzheimer’s, and other neurological events and diseases. In that regard, I’ve never heard of a stroke or Alzheimer’s patient being prescribed an ADD drug.
In other words, I don’t understand how a psychiatrist would justify diagnosing ADD when your daughter’s symptoms are chemotherapy-induced. And then there’s the issue of giving a five-hour battery of tests to a six-year-old. Even my attention span would suffer. Furthermore, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual lists not one test-based criteria for a diagnosis of ADD/ADHD (and sixteen of the eighteen symptoms are prefaced by the word “often,” whatever that means).
Mind you, I am differentiating a set of behaviors from a diagnosis. So, to be clear, “chemo-brain” and ADD are two different diagnostic entities (according to medical literature). I am unaware of something known as chemotherapy-induced ADD but there is such a thing as chemotherapy-induced distractibility, short attention span, and forgetfulness.
Because a child's brain is very "plastic," the symptoms of chemo-brain in a child are generally not permanent. The literature reports a healing process of indeterminate length that eventually corrects or at least significantly diminishes these late effects.
Psychiatric medications involve unpredictable side effects in children that need to be figured into this calculus. These drugs, because they act on the central nervous system, might interfere with your daughter’s healing process.
Ethically, I can’t tell you not to follow a physician’s advice. Furthermore, you might have misunderstood something the psychiatrist told you. At the very least, you should go back to your daughter’s physician and discuss your concerns with him.
Nonetheless, I can ethically tell you what I’d have recommended had you sought my advice; to wit, I would have suggested that (a) you exhaust non-invasive therapies before using potentially risky medications and (b) you start by consulting with a pediatric occupational therapist. In my view, your daughter’s brain has suffered enough assault already.
Shift in Paradigm Derailed Child-Rearing
I am sometimes asked if I think the “parenting pendulum” is swinging back, however slowly, toward where it was sixty-plus years ago or at least toward a tolerable middle point.
Before I answer the question, the reader should understand that prior to the psychological parenting revolution of the late 1960s and 1970s, there was no periodic swing in child rearing in America or any other culture. The evidence points to a parenting ethos that remained essentially unchanged for thousands of years (while everything else was changing). This ethos consisted not of methodologies, but of timeless understandings concerning children and parental responsibilities, understandings that crossed cultural boundaries. It is, in fact, still being adhered to in cultures that have not turned to mental health professionals as the primary source of child-rearing guidance but still rely on community elders for parenting support and counsel.
In the cultures in question children are everything American children were before “experts” determined that they had been anointed by some New Age divinity to fix something that wasn’t broken: responsible, mannerly, respectful of adults, hard-working, and trustworthy. As an example, a woman who recently spent two years working in rural African schools told me that it was not unusual to find over one hundred children of all ages being taught in one large space by one teacher who was dealing with virtually zero behavior problems.
That is a hallucinogenic dream in America today, yet I have met a good number of American women who taught, solo, over ninety first graders at one time in the early 1950s. Without exception, they testify to orderly classrooms where discipline was not a major issue.
The major difference between then and now is that parents in the good old days understood their obligations to their neighbors, communities, and culture whereas today’s parents do not have as good a grasp of these obligations. Today, the raising of the typical child is not about strengthening culture; it is all about the child and promoting his accomplishments. You know, helping him get accepted by the “right” university and such. (By the way, the “right” university for me was Western Illinois University – not generally included in a “best of” list.)
So, having put the original question into a proper historical context, my answer is no. I had hope for such a restoration up until recently. Then it became clear to me that most of today’s parents will do such things as give their 10-year-olds smart phones on demand even if they’re aware of research saying that such devices induce changes in brain development that mimic addiction. The inmates are obviously running the asylum.
Which leads me to point out that today’s parents are, as a lot, afraid of their children. They are afraid to upset them, deprive them of what their friends have, afraid of losing their carefully cultivated friendships with them. As is typical of folks in my generation, I am thankful that my parents did not care whether I liked them or not. It never occurred to me to yell “I hate you!” because it would not have caused them to even pause in what they were doing.
American child rearing underwent a paradigm shift fifty years ago and has been off the rails ever since. Indeed, more and more people are recognizing this and resolving to correct it in their own homes. But will the big picture ever be re-balanced? I doubt it, but that’s not the point. The point is to do the right thing without needing someone else to join in, or even cheer you on.