Copyright 2021, John K. Rosemond
Why? Because I Said So
When I was a graduate student, one of the parenting memes then emerging from within the mental health professional community had it that “children deserved explanations.” The flip side of that very progressive notion was that parents should never say “Because I said so” in response to “Why?” or “Why not?”
One of the books I read maintained that parental explanations served to teach children how adults made decisions and were, therefore, essential to the development of good decision-making skills.
As was generally the case among my peers, this novel approach to the raising of children appealed greatly to me because my stepfather had never explained himself. His rather peculiar response to “Why?” was “Y is a crooked letter.” I once asked him what that meant. His response: “I don’t know. My father said it and I’m just passing it on.” That I seem to have made reasonably good decisions in my adult life will forever remain a mystery.
My mother, on the other hand, tended to explain herself, which is why I argued with her incessantly. As a teenager, I would bring her to tears on a somewhat regular basis, at which point she would generally give in. She was convinced I was destined to become a criminal defense attorney.
As a young parent, I adopted my mother’s approach and taught my children to argue. Because I sank to their level, they were prone to disrespect in word and tone, and I was prone to punishing them. Notwithstanding my anger-driven consequences, they continued to argue and persist in their disrespect.
I finally realized that I was blaming them for problematic behavior that was my doing. They did not qualify for a diagnosis; rather, my well-intentioned explanations were the cause of my parenting grief. Rather instantly, I began channeling my stepfather, but instead of “Y is a crooked letter,” I incorporated “Because I said so” into my parenting vocabulary. Equally instantly, the arguments stopped, proof that when it comes to raising children, there is nothing new under the sun.
Explanations do not teach children how to make good decisions; they give children tacit permission to construct arguments that infuriate parents who, oddly enough, continue to explain themselves, continue to become infuriated, and then accuse their kids of being “argumentative.”
Children do not deserve explanations. How can the case be made for entitlement when the subject is a dependent? It cannot be. Children deserve parents who demonstrate confidence in the decisions they make. Paradoxically, children do not sometimes (often?) appreciate said confidence; nonetheless, it greatly enhances their sense of well-being. Children are incapable of grasping the paradox, so save your breath and do not try to explain it.
When, following “Because I said so,” a child tells you he hates you, simply smile and say, “Oh, that’s fine. If I was your age, and in your shoes, I’d hate me too. That, too, will pass.”
And then, exit, stage left, leaving the child to “stew in his own juices.” My stepfather was fond of that expression as well.
Teaching Financial Responsibility to Teens
Q: My two young teens are constantly begging me to buy them clothes. It’s become highly annoying. After reading your book on teenagers, I’ve decided to stop buying them any clothing and give them each an $750 annual clothing allowance. Should I give them the whole amount at once or give it to them on a monthly basis?
A: Great idea! However, I don’t think an annual clothing allowance of $750 is a realistic amount for children who are outgrowing their clothes every six months to a year. If their clothing allowance is insufficient, then the whining is only going to get worse, and your plan is likely to blow up in your face.
Give each of your kids a monthly clothing stipend that is sufficient to purchase a certain amount of discretionary clothing. I generally recommend between $75 and $100. Under the plan, you would continue to purchase necessary clothes (e.g., to replace items that no longer fit), but you would spend only a minimum amount in each case. For example, if one of them requires a new winter jacket, that is your responsibility. If she doesn’t like the jacket you’re willing to buy, then you would give him that same amount in cash and he would use his allowance to make up the difference in price. If he simply wanted an article of clothing that is nice but unnecessary, that would be his responsibility entirely.
The most efficient way to do this is to set up a checking account for each child at your bank. As long as you have good credit, the account doesn’t have overdraft protection, and you are willing to back it, most banks are willing to do this. You deposit the child’s monthly allowance in her account at the beginning of the month and he manages the account from there. In the event of a bounced check, the bank and merchant fines as well as what the merchant is owed come off the top of the following month’s allowance.
This plan teaches teens how to budget money and manage a checking account. Better still, it also teaches them to curtail their spending impulses, plan ahead, and save for the proverbial rainy day. It’s a great way to prepare a youngster for the larger fiscal responsibilities of adulthood.
How To Help Your Child Get More Grit
It’s all over the web, that “grit” thing. Seems like every day, I get some promo for a webinar on how to get more grit, project more grit, or get in touch with your inner grit. So, allow me to enlighten the reader on how to help your child acquire grit.
First, what is grit? Grit is equal parts determination, tenacity, and emotional resilience, which is the ability to withstand setback and even failure. Grit is nothing new. Marco Polo had it. Edmund Hillary had it. Navy Seals have it. I know that leaves lots of people out, but this is a newspaper column, not a history. You get the picture. Grit is hanging in there and getting the job done when failure is a looming possibility. Grit is in short supply today, as I and many folks of my generation fear.
Grit is in short supply because it doesn’t fit the postmodern narrative, which is all about getting in touch with how special one is. The current narrative is about getting in touch with one’s feelings and other human persons’ feelings as well (or at least attempting to carry off the pretense). For most of the last fifty years, we’ve tried raising emotionally intelligent children and it’s been a disaster. As a consequence of our collective good intentions, child mental health is in the toilet. Time for some good old retro-childrearing, I’d say, so here comes the fail-safe formula for endowing a child with grit:
LET YOUR CHILD FAIL. Stop the enabling. Stop being your child’s personal reality buffer. Stop trying to solve every problem that comes up in his life and let him do the lifting for a change. Don’t even help him with his next science project. (OMG!) Let him experience what it’s like to live an authentic human life, one with its fair share of disappointment, loss, and failure. The best lessons in an authentic life are often the consequence of falling short of the mark.
STOP AUTHENTICATING EVERY FEELING THAT BUBBLES UP INSIDE YOUR CHILD. Stop talking to him about his every feeling and let him know, in no uncertain terms, that dwelling on feelings interferes with solving problems, which is what life is all about, every day of it.
DON’T ALLOW YOUR CHILD TO RECEIVE PARTICIPATION AND “GOOD SPORT” TROPHIES. Let him know that in the real world of everyday problems, which you are preparing him for, mere participation doesn’t get one an award. Awards are for merit, which is earned through setting yourself to a task and doing all you can to accomplish it.
INCORPORATE THE “THREE C’S OF COMPETENT CHILDREARING” INTO YOUR PARENTING PROGRAM. They are chores, courtesies, and compliance. Chores should come before after-school activities. Their benefits last a whole lot longer. Courtesies are the means by which a child learns respect for others, which is vastly superior to high SELF-esteem. Lastly, the research finds what commonsense affirms: obedient children are a lot happier than disobedient children. Calmly insist upon calm compliance with your rules and expectations.
LET YOUR CHILD KNOW HE’S A SMALL FISH IN A BIG POND. Too many children today think they are the Biggest Fishes Ever. Keep in mind, always, that the best way to demonstrate respect for your child is to expect of your child. Set the bar reasonably high and don’t help him get over it. For more on that, go back and re-read LET YOUR CHILD FAIL.
Tighten Up Deadline for Adult Child To Move Out
“We should, like, what? Give him a year to figure out his life and move out?”
I’m talking to the parents of a twenty-one-year-old male who instead of going to college or into the military, delivers pizzas, eats pizzas (he gets an employee discount), and plays video games. I’m having a déjà vu experience. I’ve had this conversation before, many, many times.
“Why a year?”
“Um, well, that’s enough time for him to figure things out, isn’t it?”
“Why not a month? A year just gives you twelve months to come up with excuses for not following through.”
“A month?” They look at each other like they’ve just seen a ghost.
“Um, well, um, I mean,” the father stammers, “what if he’s not ready in a month? What do we do then?” He looks at his wife, the child’s mother, who is looking at him somewhat sternly, and then says to me, “Um, I don’t really think a month is enough time.” He can read his wife’s mind, I see.
“Why not? What you do is one day when he’s out delivering pizzas, you go in his room, unplug his video game, gather it up, take it to your workplace and put it in a safe or something. Then, when he comes home and discovers it missing and begins to go into withdrawal, you tell him that when he moves out, he gets his video game console back. Not until then. He’ll probably be gone in a week. You want him gone, right?”
The parents look at each other, then back to me in silent shock and bewilderment. I’m a psychologist. I can read minds. They are beginning to regret they ever sought my advice, especially the child’s mother. She is freaking out. Obviously, I care nothing for her maternal instincts.
She finally speaks up. “John, now really, a month is hardly enough time for him to get his act together.”
“I disagree and I’ve had a lot more experience at this than you have. He’s intelligent. He has a valid high school diploma. He knows the difference between right and wrong. He has no incapacities. He even has a car. When I was twenty, a year younger than your son and without a car, my nineteen-year-old future wife and I figured out in less than a month what you want your son to figure out and we got married and moved into a three-room apartment in someone’s basement and never looked back. Your son can do this. You just have to disappear the video game and use it as a carrot, and a huge carrot it will be.”
Much to my amazement, they did it, probably after throwing up several times. And a month later, their son was gone with his video game, and a year later, he was still gone and figuring it out, one step at a time. He had an apartment, two jobs, a roommate, a car, and was playing his video game less and less because sleep was the more pressing priority.
Most important, perhaps, this young adult’s mother was still of sound mind. Sounder, even.
You can do it too. Remember, no pain, no gain.
Psychological Parenting Is a Prescription for Enabling
Q: In your column, you have often spoken of “psychological parenting.” What, exactly, do you mean by that?
A: Answering your question requires that we first unpack the word “parenting,” the definition of which is simply “what parents did not do before the 1960s,” which is when parents began putting children at the center of attention in the family and worrying about how they felt concerning nearly everything. Prior to that most tumultuous decade, children—myself, for example—were simply raised, synonyms of which are reared and brought up. Since then, children have been “parented.” Paradoxically, many of them have been parented by people who were simply raised, which attests to the power of the media.
Pre-1960s parents were focused on preparing children for functional citizenship, period. They were not trying to make their children happy, nor were they promoting high achievement. Ironically, if suicide is a fairly reliable indicator, child mental health in the age of mere childrearing was ten times better than it is today. In my high school, for example, I knew of no one who was seeing a therapist. Today, a high school kid who’s NOT seeing a therapist must have something wrong with him.
Having polled several thousand people my age on the subject, I can truthfully say that pre-1960s parents did not give much of a hoot how their children felt about anything. No one I have polled remembers having a “How do you feel about this, Johnny/Joanie?” conversation with their parents, ever. And yet we were much, much, much more emotionally resilient than today’s typical teenage snowflakes.
In the late 1960s, American parents began listening to mental health professionals—psychologists, mostly—tell them how to raise children. Quickly, mere childrearing became parenting and everything began going to the proverbial dogs. Mostly, mothers became obsessed with their kids. Today’s married mother thinks of herself as a single parent, mind you. Her husband, the children’s ersatz father, puts off nothing but white noise in the background.
For some strange reason that future historians will ponder endlessly, today’s parents want to be liked by their children. People my age laugh and scoff at this because we know that there is nothing more demeaning to an adult than the desire to be liked by a child. Laughter and scoffing aside, however, it’s tragic and often ends tragically, as in, for example, a child who lacks any respect for adults and, therefore, doesn’t know how to act like one.
The “psychological” in “psychological parenting” refers to raising children according to psychological theories of human nature, none of which have ever survived the scrutiny of dispassionate researchers. In a nutshell, psychological parenting boils down to “making children feel good about themselves,” which is a prescription for enabling, which is a prescription for disaster on both sides of the equation.
Sorry to be so gloomy, but you asked.