Monday, August 3rd, 2020
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John Rosemond Recent Columns

Copyright 2020, John K. Rosemond

Forgive Today's Parents, for They Know Not What They Do 

I recently received a paean to my generation – the so-called “boomers” – that has been circulating on the Internet for some time now. It recalls and celebrates the freedom we enjoyed as children and the personal responsibility our parents enforced upon us – concerning the latter, much to our frequent chagrin.

Peanut butter was a dietary staple, we wore nothing more protective than baseball caps when we rode our bicycles, which we often rode miles from home, our social media consisted of face-to-face conversations, we learned respect for others via party lines (look it up), we climbed and almost to the kid fell out of trees, and so on. The point being that my and my parents’ generations “produced some of the best risk-takers, problem-solvers, and inventors ever.”

As I engaged in wistful thinking, it occurred to me that we saw no therapists, took no brain- and behavior-altering drugs, received no bogus psychological diagnoses, and weren’t sent off to rehab facilities (other than the occasional wayward kid who spent time in reform school), and yet our mental health was ten times better than that of today’s kids.

One of the reminiscences that carried great meaning for me was “The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of…They actually sided with the law!” I smiled from ear to ear.

I was seventeen when I was arrested for disturbing the public peace. Hey! I was simply celebrating my graduation from high school! Give a guy a break! Actually, I was one of seven fellow grads who were hauled off to the local police station where we were fingerprinted, mug shot, and perp walked back to cells where we awaited our bail-bondsmen, aka, our parents.

I watched from behind bars as one fellow rowdy after another was released into custody. When I finally got up the courage to ask the jailer when my parents were coming, he said, “They’re leaving you here.”

What???? Yes, they left me in jail for two of the longest days of my life. On Saturday morning they showed up and informed me that freedom was a relative thing: to wit, I was grounded for the remainder of the summer. What could have been the most glorious of summers turned into two months of yard work, painting the entire house, and explaining my incarceration to my few law-abiding buddies.

Charges were eventually dropped but I never again saw my accomplices. I don’t have any idea what became of them, but my life is better because I experienced, up close and personal and before I could ramp up my rebellion any further, what generally happens to people who believe they are above the law.

I think, ruefully, of today’s parents, many of whom seem to think that good parenting consists largely of protecting one’s children from the vagaries of personal responsibility; and I ask myself if we will ever recover from their good intentions.

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How to Prevent the Terrible Twos From Becoming the Terrifying Threes

One of my books, “Making the ‘Terrible’ Twos Terrific!”, has recently become a best-seller in China, of all places. Seriously! What sorts of problems are Chinese parents having with their toddlers? The same problems American, French, Russian, Australian, Nigerian, Brazilian, Czech, and parents of all other nationalities are having with theirs, that’s what.

Human nature is human nature, folks. Children do not come into the world civilized; rather, they must be civilized. They must be taught to accept submission to legitimate authority, for starters. They must be taught respect for the property and persons of others. They must be taught to control their impulses because most of their innate impulses are destructive and self-serving. They must be taught to accept “no” for an answer, to wait in line, and that they aren’t the best at everything or even most things. None of that comes easy for a toddler, which is why toddlers scream so much. And by the way, their screams are all screams of pain because nothing is more painful than having to accept that you are not God or even a god.

The “terrible twos” actually begin sometime during a child’s second year of life – say, eighteen months – and last until around his or her third birthday. That finite period assumes that the child’s parents accomplish what is described in the previous paragraph during that time. If they fail to do so, toddlerhood continues. Eventually, it becomes known as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and/or bipolar disorder of childhood. Blaming the child’s biology (even though no one has proven that said “disorders” are biologically-based) is so much more tidy (and profitable) than implying that his parents failed in their mission.

So, the question begs, how does one complete the mission by age three?

First, childproof the home. That ensures that parents will not spend great energy following the living tornado from room to room, slapping his little hands, yelling “stop that!” fifty times a day and generally setting disciplinary precedents that will come back to haunt them.

Second, create a “tantrum place” where said little beastie, when possessed by a demon, can flail and scream all he wants. An out-of-the-way place, preferably, where his flailing and screaming will disturb no one but himself, which is fitting. Simply help him to his special place whenever he begins to scream, deposit him (you’ll likely be dragging him at this point), and say, “Here you go! Scream all you want, my sweet little angel,” and walk away.

Third, remember that undomesticated barbarians do not sit for time-out. No matter. Select a time-out chair anyway. When he decides to play James Dean, just take him to said chair and put him in it. Then step back and say, “Okay, you can get up now.” Make sure you say it before he gets up on his own. That creates the illusion that he is obeying you, which is all you’re trying to accomplish because it’s all you can accomplish.

Fourth, always remember that “no” is the most important word in your vocabulary. The sooner he gets used to it, the sooner you can dispense with the second suggestion, above, and the happier he will be.

Fifth, put him to bed as early as possible.

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Here's a Real Head Banger Issue

Q: When my two-year-old gets angry, he sometimes gets down and bangs his head on the floor. This happens two or three times a week, generally speaking. He’s not bruised himself, yet, but I don’t know how long that’s going to last. To make matters worse, I’ve made the mistake of reading about various psychological disorders and have started to obsess about the autism spectrum thing. Other than the headbanging, he’s a happy, verbal, and very imaginative child, able to play by himself in his room for several hours at a stretch. I’m blessed and worried at the same time. Can you give me some reassuring words?

A: That’s not an unreasonable request. Try these: Far as I can tell, you have nothing to worry about. Hold that thought. I’ll come back to it in a moment or three.

It’s a fascinating fact, human beings are the only species that need – or have recently come to thinking they need – specially-trained, highly-evolved, super- sages like myself to help them navigate the fundamentally simple, non-intellectual process of raising a child to competent adulthood. Since 1970, more than 100,000 books on how to raise children have hit the market. Around twenty were written by yours truly (with more to come). God help me.

The irony in all of this is the more the experts have published, the more difficult childrearing has become. A good part of the problem has to do with the inherently progressive nature of the publishing business. To be published, an author must come up with a new idea, a novel approach, something “fresh.” It follows that the more parenting books, articles, columns, and so on a parent reads, the more the parent is bombarded with new ideas and approaches, and the more confused and anxious the parent becomes. Too much information!

To continue…and the more confused and anxious the parent becomes, the more the parent reads in a never-ending and vain search for the new idea that will end all new ideas. This craziness is why I have a job. Like I said.

Unlike most people of my ilk, however, I am a proponent of the ancient kisaii school of wisdom parenting, kisaii standing for keep-it-simple, as-it-is. In the raising of a child, the simplest approach (unconditional love and an equal measure of unequivocal leadership) and the simplest explanations rule. You, dear mother, are thinking too much. You are indeed blessed! He entertains himself for hours? That’s as clear a sign of good development as any. But, keep in mind, nearly all toddlers are haunted with episodes of kick-out-the-jams insanity.

I flunked Diagnosing Across the Miles 101 in grad school, but I can tell you that two-year-olds – being the nut cases they can become in a heartbeat – are prone to doing things like banging their heads on the floor when they don’t get their way. I might be concerned if he was oblivious to hurting himself, but the absence of bruising and the fact he’s still acting normatively in every other respect (he’s not acting like a drunk, e.g.) suggests strongly that he knows when to stop.

To bring this chapter in his life to a close, draw a chalk circle on the floor in a side room. Tell him his doctor says he can bang his head all he wants, but only inside the circle. If he starts banging, take him to the circle (drag gently), say, “Bang your head here, my love,” and walk away.

This too will pass. I give it two weeks, tops. See how simple that was?

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Are Parents Responsible for the How Their Kids Turn Out?

Are parents responsible for the sort of people their children become? That’s this week’s question, and the answer is no, albeit equivocally.

Several parents have recently written me bemoaning the lifestyles their adult children have chosen to lead – lifestyles that feature addictions, criminality, and flagrant irresponsibility. (The operative word in the previous sentence, by the way, is chosen.)

“What did we do wrong?” said parents ask, to which my answer is “Something, but so does everyone.”

As is the case with every human endeavor, the raising of a child is, never has been, and never will be done perfectly. Furthermore, every human being comes into the world bearing unique traits. Lessons from one’s own childhood as well as prior childrearing experience can be of assistance, but in the final analysis, one learns to be a proper parent to Billy or Susie by raising Billy or Susie. There are general commonsense principles, but there is no one-size-fits-all formula.

Parenting is, in other words, a trial-and-error process. Everyone who attempts it, therefore, will commit errors. The question becomes: Did the errors made by a certain parent or set of parents determine the trajectory of their child’s life from beginning to end?

The notion that parenting is deterministic was proposed by Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939), the so-called “Father of Modern Psychology.” It is because of Freud’s proposition that most therapists attempt to link an individual’s “issues” to features of his or her childhood. Supposedly, the fact that a person’s father was an alcoholic and abandoned the family explains said person’s chronic codependency, for example.

The problem, of course, is that for every codependent with an alcoholic parent there is one whose parents were emotionally healthy people. Dysfunctional people raise functional people, and functional people raise dysfunctional people.

When all is said and done, parenting is certainly an influence, but it is impossible to predict, based on a person’s childhood experiences, the direction his life will take. When all is said and done, a person’s present life circumstances are a matter of the choices he’s made, also known as free will. Without free will, there is no personal responsibility; and without personal responsibility, everyone is helpless and hopeless.

The further problem is that some adults seem to thrive on blaming their parents (or a parent) for their shortcomings. The individuals in question construct soap operas out of their childhoods in which they are victims of their parents’ villainy. That may be the most destructive form of irresponsibility. It often turns into a life sentence.

So, if your adult child is dysfunctional in some way, you may or may not have been an unwitting contributor (people who read parenting materials do not tend to be witting in that regard); nonetheless, it is your adult child’s job to fix it, not yours.

Take it from the horse’s mouth, there is nothing so liberating as coming to grips with personal responsibility.

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Is There a Child and Teen Mental Health Crisis?

I have long maintained that the significant per-capita increase in child and adolescent mental health problems since the 1960s – a ten-fold increase in suicide, for example – is due to the collective embrace of a parenting paradigm that has proven itself to be not only dysfunctional but also dangerous – ironically, to child and teen mental health. This new paradigm, which I term “Postmodern Psychological Parenting,” was cut from whole cloth by America’s mental health establishment.

I was in graduate school when PPP was cobbled together, given fake scientific bona fides, and set in motion. At its core is the notion that good parenting is primarily a matter of permitting, understanding, and properly responding to a child’s emotional expressions.

Individuals who have achieved a state of authentic adulthood – which has nothing to do with one’s chronological age – know that emotions are, on one hand, one of the wonders of being human but on the other, one of the most destructive of human attributes. On their dark side, they destroy people and relationships, not to mention various personal properties ranging from dishes and lamps to Wal Marts. Like a child’s thinking, emotions must be disciplined, trained. The chaff of emotion must be separated from the wheat and the earlier that training begins, the better for all concerned.

The term “behavior modification” entered parenting vocabulary in the late 1960s. The implication was that the discipline of a child was all about his or her behavior. Previously, before psychobabble reigned in American childrearing, it was generally understood that discipline was needed to teach children not only to behave correctly, but also to think and emote correctly. In fact, proper (pro-social) behavior is nothing more than an indication of proper thinking and emotional restraint.

Unfortunately, the new paradigm took hold and has wreaked havoc since. Ironically, the very profession responsible for the national child and adolescent mental health mess markets itself as exclusively qualified to treat it. At the individual level, psychologists (keep in mind, dear reader, I am one) call it by various scientific-sounding names like “emotional dysregulation disorder” that, as in that very case, have no scientific validity whatsoever.

One “treatment” facility’s website says that kids with EDD “can have biological predispositions for emotional reactivity that can be exasperated by chronic low levels of invalidation in their environments resulting in emotional dysregulation.” I think they meant “exacerbated by chronically low levels of validation.” Nonetheless, said facility can prove not one aspect of that statement. Furthermore, validating a child’s every emotion is at the heart of the problem, not by any means a solution.

The solution is for parents to stop allowing their children’s emotional states to drive their decisions and run their families; for parents to stop striving for fun, give-and-take relationships with their kids and assume their rightful authority – calm, decisive, rational and intentional.

Paradoxically, good child mental health begins with the child realizing his parents are not there to ensure his perpetual happiness. He will be much happier from that point on.

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