John Rosemond Recent Columns
Copyright 2021, John K. Rosemond
The More You Try To Make Child Happy, the More Unhappy They Will Be
Making children happy became a parenting goal in the early 1970s. The paradox, as everyone with a modicum of commonsense knows, is that the more effort parents put into making a child happy, the more unhappy the child becomes.
Underneath the cute appearance of an infant lurks a tyrant. I would have been expelled from graduate school for writing that sentence, but as loathe as many of today’s parents are to accept it, that is the truth. Another paradox: Parents who are unwilling to accept it are the ones most likely to give the tyrant permission to step out of hiding and begin his reign of terror.
The adult granddaughter of two close friends has invited the tyrant into her home. Her first child is the quintessential terrible toddler, and she is the quintessential enabler. He screams and she jumps into action, figures out what he wants and – needless to say? – gives it to him. As one might have guessed, she holds him almost constantly. He sleeps with her and her husband…as one might have guessed. Their very own tyrant-in-residence becomes more tyrannical with every passing day…as one might have guessed.
What is she thinking? He will outgrow his tyranny? More likely he will grow into it. If she just gives him this one more thing, he will begin to calm down? Quite the contrary. He is becoming addicted to controlling her. Power corrupts even a two-year-old. He is not going to suddenly get his fill of mommy and begin acting like a reasonable human being. As time goes on, he is going to devise ever more ways of asserting that he is the big dog in the relationship.
The mother-child relationship is already codependent and the only person who can change the terms of that contract is mommy. The problem, of course, is that hell hath no fury like a tyrant denied. Let’s say she begins with putting him to bed in his crib, kissing him goodnight, and walking out of the room. He will scream like he has never screamed before. He will go completely insane and that is not hyperbole. That will be the worst night of her life, the good news being that if she stays the course, he will get over his trauma, begin to act like he’s never been traumatized, and go to sleep when put in his crib.
Once he has accepted that he’s going to sleep in his own bed – I give it two to four weeks – it’s on to letting him know that he doesn’t control mommy during the day either. He will go insane again. In short, things will get worse by much before they begin to get better.
I have witnessed what happens when the tyrant is allowed to dictate his parents’ lives for more than a few years. First, everyone is miserable. Second, the tyrant goes to school and is quickly identified, tested, diagnosed with some bogus “disorder,” and put on a medication the side effects of which become a problem in and of themselves. That’s when the “medication shuffle” begins.
The authors of the two best-selling parenting books of the 1970s urged parents to do everything in their power to ensure their kids possessed high regard for themselves - high self-esteem, that is. Since unhappy kids must not have high self-esteem, the goal of raising children became that of making, and keeping, them happy.
And now, some fifty years later, unhappy tyrants are everywhere. It is one of the saddest things in all the world, especially the world of all too many of today’s grandparents.
After 45 Years, Still Advocating for Old-Fashioned Parenting
2021 marks the forty-fifth year I’ve been writing this column. I’ve been told it is the longest-running syndicated column written continuously by one author. That takes “Dear Abby” out of contention.
In the beginning, I was four years out of graduate school, directing a community mental health program for children and families, a mere eight years into marriage and seven into parenthood. A colleague had suggested I submit a column idea to the local newspaper, so I did and much to my amazement, the editor decided to give it a go. One minute, I was still figuring out what being a husband and father entailed and the next, I was a parenting expert.
At first, the column simply regurgitated psychology’s “party line.” I was an avid promoter of behavior modification, self-esteem, and everything else about the new parenting philosophy I had learned in grad school. Meanwhile, my wife and I were having significant struggles with a son whose motto was “YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!” When his third-grade teacher informed us that he was the worst-behaved child she had dealt with in her twenty-year career, we finally woke up to reality and marshalled the resolve to set things straight. Set them straight we did, which goes a long way toward explaining why we are still married, and happily so. Our family rehab was accomplished by doing precisely what my profession was telling parents not to do, but rather by doing what pre-1960s parents would have done under similar circumstances.
That experience turned my head around. I began coming to grips with the fact that post-1950s psychological parenting theory was a complete farce. Not mostly farce, mind you, but completely farce. That boomer parents had bought into it explained why they were having more problems with the simple process of raising a child than their grandparents could have imagined parents ever having. I began ringing the alarm and espousing a return to traditional understandings concerning children and their upbringing.
As the new, retro-radical John Rosemond began emerging from behind the psychobabble curtain, mental health professionals went bonkers. Understandable, given that I was threatening the justification for their very existence. I won’t go into the battles I’ve fought with the mental health professions – my chosen field and area of license. Suffice to say, the battles have revealed the Emperor’s nakedness.
I am what is called an “outlier.” Seventy years ago, I would have been regarded as useless. Very few people would have wanted my advice because childrearing then was driven by a combination of tradition and common sense, which was still held in common. In that regard, “my” advice is not mine at all. I am committed to the cause of keeping the old way of raising children – it was defined by a certain attitude as opposed to a set of methods – alive and kicking.
Where childrearing is concerned, there is nothing new under the sun. Things began to fall apart when American parents fell under the sway of new ideas promoted by a new profession; when they became persuaded that capital letters after one’s name confers intellectual infallibility. Some lessons can only be learned the hard way.
And so, after forty-five years, I keep right on truckin’. I will retire when I no longer make sense, in which case I will need to be informed.
Advice for Preschool Teachers
Q: I teach 3- and 4-year-olds in a childcare center in Australia. I always have a few difficult children in any group and the book in which you describe Alpha Speech [The Well-Behaved Child] has been very helpful. My disciplinary options are limited to separating a misbehaving child out of the group for a few minutes and talking, but I cannot isolate or take privileges away. Besides, it seems that the worst kids’ parents undo at home what we accomplish in the classroom. Some of them even side with their children when they misbehave. Meanwhile, we walk on eggshells when it comes to discipline so that a parent doesn’t file a complaint against us with child protection. What suggestions do you have for preschool teachers?
A: Go back to school and learn automobile repair. Better yet, learn baking. Hardly anyone ever sends dessert back to the kitchen.
American preschool teachers also complain to me that concerning classroom discipline, their hands are tied by their supervisors and they get little support from parents. Consequently, kids whose behavior problems could have been brought under control in preschool take them to elementary school where they are “identified,” diagnosed, and medicated. Because dedicated people like yourself are unable to discipline effectively, Big Pharma profits.
Once upon a time, children were afraid of adults. I was afraid of adults, for example. I didn’t quake in my sneakers around them, mind you, but I had a healthy respect for the life-changing influence they exercised in my life. In the late 1960s, mental health professionals began demonizing everything about traditional childrearing. Today, most children are not afraid of adults and child mental health is much, much worse. And if that’s not sad enough, consider that many of the parents I counsel are afraid of their children.
Let’s get something out of the way: I am by no means recommending that adults be frightening. Children should feel comfortable and secure around adults, but they should “fear” them. They should be clear that adults run the show and will enforce the rules. Children are “afraid” of adults who simply act like authority figures. They mind their P’s and Q’s around adults who embrace their roles as leaders of children.
Said adults don’t bend over at the waist when they talk to children. They stand up, like people who possess confidence in their natural authority. They don’t scream and yell. They tell children what to do in short sentences that don’t end in “Okay?” When children misbehave, they don’t become flustered and threaten, as in, “If you do that one more time…!” They act, calmly and with purpose, proving they mean what they say.
Children trust adults who fit that description. Obedience is an act of trust, and children benefit from it. Research finds that a child’s sense of well-being is proportionate to his or her level of obedience. We don’t even need scientists to tell us something so commonsensical.
Giving children reasons and choices and letting them express their feelings may sound wonderful, but what children truly need are adults who tell them what to do, set firm boundaries, and enforce rules…adults who act like adults.
Beware of 'The Protocol'
Q: Our son is seven years old and in the second grade. His school went virtual this past Spring and we see no end to it, not in the near term at least. When he was going to a brick-and-mortar schoolhouse, he did very well. Close to the top of his class, in fact. Ever since last spring, however, he’s been in a slow decline. I have to stand over him to get him to do anything. His work is sloppy and his attitude is care-less. When I brought this up to his teacher, she got the school psychologist involved. She says he’s exhibiting signs of ADHD and needs to be tested. I don’t like where this is going. Should I let them test him or not?
A: I strongly advise against it.
You and your son are in grave danger of becoming ensnared in The Protocol, which consists of a sham process that almost invariably results in a sham diagnosis that almost invariably leads to a medication that has never reliably outperformed placebos in clinical trials. Test, diagnose, medicate – that’s The Protocol, and the diagnosis in question is ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
Although the mental health establishment claims that ADHD is a neurologically-based disorder involving such unproven things as biochemical imbalances and brain differences, the standard diagnostic test battery includes neither a neurological exam nor an analysis of the child’s nervous system chemistry. The diagnosis of ADHD is made strictly on the basis of behavior, which essentially means the tests are superfluous, given in order to create the false impression that the diagnostic process is scientific. The fact is that once a child has been identified, the diagnosis is all but a given.
No one has ever conclusively proven that ADHD is – as claimed by nearly every online medical narrative – a “disease.” The behaviors – short attention span, impulsivity, etc. – are certainly verifiable, but the connection between the behavior and a disease has never been established. The disease model is invoked so as to justify prescribing medications that, to repeat, have never reliably outperformed placebos in clinical trials. In effect, the medications in question are costly placebos with unpredictable side effects including appetite suppression, anxiety, and depression. In the long run, “treatment” often consists solely of changing and adjusting said medication on a regular basis.
Once a child is placed on the merry-go-round that defines The Protocol, there is likelihood that he may never get off. I personally know folks who were diagnosed in elementary school and are still taking meds in their thirties. Furthermore, once a child has been identified, the pressure to get on the merry-go-round can be relentless. I encourage you not to go there. Hire a tutor. If you’re able and feel up to it, pull him out of school and homeschool him. Enroll him in a private brick-and-mortar school. Move to the Fiji Islands.
Even if there was scientific validity to the diagnosis, the fact that your son had no problems in a three-dimensional classroom means he is suffering from nothing besides a combination of boredom and screen fatigue. He doesn’t need a diagnosis. He needs a classroom.
Today’s Kids Suffer a Lack of Common Sense in Their Lives
A journalist asks, “What is the biggest challenge facing today’s children?”
“The real world,” I said.
For the last fifty years or so, good parenting has been defined as protecting one’s children from frustration, defeat, difficulty, stress, loss, deprivation, negative consequences, mistake, and just about every other real-world experience. The result of this coddling has been a dramatic increase in child and teen mental health problems, chief among which have been anxiety and depression.
We know that the key to good mental health is something called emotional resilience, which is simply the ability to cope successfully with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. As Shakespeare inferred, those setbacks and bruises are inevitable. Coping with them is learned behavior, and the earlier it is learned, the better.
I am a member of the last generation of American children whose parents had no problem standing by and watching as we were pommeled with consequences we had brought upon ourselves.
“You made this bed,” went the popular parenting adage of the era, “so you have to lie in it.”
Paradoxically, kids who had to lie in beds they had made grew up and willingly lay in beds their children made. We boomers were told by mental health professionals that our old-fashioned upbringings had left us with psychological wounds, so we resolved to abstain from our parents’ supposed mistakes. Ironically, that very resolve has fueled an exponential increase in children whose parents pay large sums of money for mental health services their children require because their parents took mental health professional advice.
A fifteen-year-old girl recently told me she was experiencing lots of anxiety, even about little things.
“That’s perfectly normal,” I told her. “Adulthood is right around the corner and adulthood can be scary. Certain things about being an adult still scare me, in fact. Anxiety is not necessarily a bad thing. If you don’t let it take over it is a great motivator.”
She doesn’t need a therapist, a diagnosis, or medication. She just needs a pep talk every now and then, and the pep talker doesn’t need to possess a doctorate in psychology, just a modicum of common sense.
That may, in fact, sum it up: Today’s kids are suffering a lack of common sense in their lives. Common sense is acquired from people who have acquired it. When all is said and done, common sense is more valuable than academic achievement, athletic prowess, or artistic genius. The “common” in common sense refers to a proper perspective on life, which children have a right to gain. Helping them do so is what parenting is all about.
Parents should certainly filter the real world down somewhat, but they should take care lest they filter it completely out.