John Rosemond Recent Columns
Copyright 2019, John K. Rosemond
Punishment Driven by Emotion Accomplishes Nothing
Q: Your recent series on punishment was thought-provoking. I agree children should have consequences when they misbehave. Nonetheless, would you please clarify when punishment becomes excessive? What is the line between reasonable and too much? When I was young, I was spanked with a belt on numerous occasions. I always felt, and still do, that they were completely unnecessary and over the top. Do you agree?
A: Absolutely! Belts, paddles, switches, and other nefarious variations on that general theme are dangerous and unequivocally unnecessary.
I don’t have a problem with spankings per se. The best research (that is, research done by people who are dispassionate on the subject) consistently finds that contrary to the ideological myth, when spankings are occasional, moderate (two to four swats on the child’s rear end), and administered by loving parents who spank with their hands only, they are not associated with psychological, behavioral, or social problems.
Then we have well-intentioned claims that the Bible instructs parents to spank with a “rod,” but the biblical term “the rod of discipline” is clearly metaphorical. It refers not to beatings with sturdy sticks, but to parental authority that is reliable, righteous, just, and unequivocal. For more on that subject, interested readers are referred to the statement on spanking found on my website at johnrosemond.com.
Before I answer your first question, allow me to address a misunderstanding. I do not believe that successful discipline is a matter of properly manipulating consequences and I don’t believe it’s always necessary to respond to misbehavior with consequences. Consequences are overrated and often overused. The key to effective discipline is an attitude, a certain presentation style, not consequences or punishment. When parents act like their authority is legitimate, that they know what they are doing and why, children do what they are told. When parents explain, threaten, yell, plead, and the like, children take every opportunity to misbehave.
My recent series on punishment was not an apologetic for a punishment-based approach to discipline. I merely said that punishment is an essential aspect of an effective disciplinary approach. Research – again, studies done by dispassionate individuals – confirms that assertion.
It’s important to note that the “size” of a punishment does not determine whether it is excessive or not. That is determined by the parent’s attitude. Punishment is likely to be excessive when the parent is angry and using punishment as a form of “payback.” The parent in question is being impulsive and vengeful as opposed to calmly corrective. Whatever message the parent intends to send is blurred by his or her emotional reaction to the child’s misbehavior.
Punishment that is driven by emotion accomplishes nothing and serves only to elicit emotion from the child. It accomplishes nothing of value; therefore, by definition, it is excessive.
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Father's Visitation With Child Should Be Allowed
Q: Our ten-year-old granddaughter lives with us. We have custody of her but her father, our son, is now asking us for visitation privileges. I probably don’t need to tell you that both he and his ex-wife were not up to parental responsibilities. He says he’s cleaned up his act and wants a relationship with his daughter. She says she wants to see him, too. We’re not completely opposed, but we’ve heard all this before and are, of course, skeptical. She came to us two years ago with major behavior problems – disobedience and lying, mostly – and has improved some but not a lot since then. She’s been seeing a therapist for more than a year, but my husband and I see no improvement. We recently found out that she and the therapist spend most of their sessions playing board games and doing crafts. My granddaughter wants to continue her therapy, but we don’t see how playing board games is going to bring about improvement in her behavior. Can you give us some direction here?
A: I’ll do my best. I can’t really comment on the therapist’s treatment plan; furthermore, I want to believe there’s more to it than simply board games, but I will tell you, I’ve heard of that sort of thing before. If I was working with you folks, I wouldn’t waste time or money seeing the child. In my estimation and experience, there’s very little if anything a child this age can contribute to a proper understanding of the sorts of problems you’re experiencing. You need a plan for dealing with your granddaughter’s behavior problems, and you need it fast. She’s at a critical stage of development as far as problems of this nature go. If they are not resolved soon, you may well be dealing with a full-blown sociopath in a few years.
As for the father’s desire to have visitation with his daughter, I think there’s a possibility that could be a good thing for her. The research is very clear that fathers become increasingly important to a young girl’s positive development beginning around your granddaughter’s age. Nonetheless, until you’re confident that everything is going well, I’d recommend limiting visits to daytime hours.
As for the behavior problems, the first thing I’d recommend is that you scrub her life clean of electronics, anything that she can use to text, get on the Internet, and so on. You need to have complete control of her communications. Second, she should have social contact with girls only and only girls you vet and approve. Next, if her father will cooperate, she should have visitation with him only if she has a “good week” at home and at school. If you determine that she doesn’t merit visitation, her father should have a serious conversation with her, emphasizing how much he wants to have time with her, but also confirming his support for the decisions you make in that regard.
Certainly, a newspaper-column length answer is not going to be sufficient. I hate to get self-promotional, but reading several of my books might help get all of you on the right track. Have the father read them as well, then get together and discuss how what you’ve read applies to your situation and how you can use it to, hopefully, begin turning things around.
It’s a start, but a good start is the most important part of any process.
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Punishing Children for Bad Behavior Is Not Bad Parenting
This is the last (for a while, anyway) of three columns in which I take on the absurd notion that punishing children for bad behavior is bad parenting. There is commonsense and there is nonsense and the absurd notion in question belongs squarely in the latter category.
Paradoxically, the average person would place the idea that punishment per se warps a child’s psyche somewhere between stupid and crazy, yet the mainstream of my profession, supposedly qualified to treat people who express crazy ideas, has spent fifty years trying to prove this crazy idea. What does that tell you? It should tell you what is often true: mental health professionals believe the capital letters after their names entitle them to make things up. They then fashion studies to “prove” that what they have made up is true. It should shock no one that said professionals almost always succeed at “proving” that what they are convinced is true is, in fact, true.
Especially concerning childrearing matters, said professionals must ignore historical fact because historical fact always (I can think of zero exceptions to the following) contradicts what they claim as truth. Taking the present issue, for example, punishing children for misbehavior has been the norm since the dawn of human history. The first story of a parent punishing children was written more than three thousand years ago. It was not until the late 1960s that American mental health professionals pulled out of thin air the notion that punishment was bad. that it was psychologically warping of a child and that said child would probably never recover unless he goes to see a psychologist. Huh?
Unfortunately, professional parenting pundits succeeded at convincing a significant number of parents of this fiction and child mental health has been on the decline ever since.
Punishment causes a child to think before he acts. The person who thinks before he acts is going to enjoy life to the fullest – for the most part, at least. The person who thinks before he acts is going to accept full responsibility for everything he does and the things that happen to him.
The person who doesn’t think before he acts can’t figure out why he does bad things and bad things happen to him. He maintains, therefore, that his bad behavior was an accident, he didn’t mean it, and usually blames whatever it is on someone else. Blaming and complaining are his specialties. He’s a victim, and by definition, victims are not happy people. By the way, victimhood is always a choice. The reason one is a victim is not to be found either in his body or out there in the world. Victimhood is in one’s head. Always.
Above all else, parents do not want their kids to ever become victims. Being a victim is perhaps the worst state of mind that mankind has ever invented.
Not to complicate the issue, but there will be times when a child misbehaves and parental punishment would be unnecessarily redundant. If a child does something wrong, and the natural consequence of whatever he did is sufficiently punishing, for example, then parents can usually end the matter by simply discussing it with the child: reviewing what happened, making sure the child understands why it happened, and ensuring he has “learned his lesson” and knows he is still cherished.
It’s important, regardless, that parents not buffer natural consequences unless they threaten a child’s physical or emotional health. Fifty-plus years ago, that’s what parents referred to when they said, “You made this bed, kiddo, so you’re going to have to lie in it.” That relatively few children today hear what every child once heard is a marker of where childrearing has gone over the past couple of generations. All too often in these topsy-turvy times, parents lie in the beds their kids make.
That looks like good parenting only to the nearsighted.
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Punishment Does Not Cause Mental Health Issues
This is the second in a series on “parent-babble,” as in the same-old, same-old nonsense the mental health industry has been passing off as sound parenting advice since the late 1960s.
Last week, I skewered an online article by mindfulness parenting coach Hunter Clarke-Fields in which she references psychologist Alan Kazdin, director of the Yale Parenting Center, to support her claim – which she further claims is shared by “many researchers” – that punishment causes all manner of mental, emotional, and behavioral harm to children.
In the late 1960s, psychologists began beating the “punishment is bad” drum and they’ve been beating it since. To conceal their complicity in the post-1960s decline in child mental health and concurrent rise of behavior problems that were rare exceptions when I was a kid (e.g. belligerent defiance and tantrums in children older than three), they alter their terminology every few years. So, for example, what is now “mindfulness” parenting was called “democratic” parenting in 1970, and what defined a brat in 1970 now defines a disorder that calls for brain-altering medication.
Clarke-Fields claims that “many researchers” (meaning any number greater than three) have discovered that punishment for misbehavior causes children to (a) harbor long-term resentment toward their parents, thus damaging the parent-child relationship, (b) develop all sorts of psychological problems (this is especially true, according to the “experts” HCF consulted, concerning spanking and being yelled at), (c) become self-centered and lack empathy for others, and (d) lack an “inner moral compass.” YIKES! I ask the reader: Can it get any worse?
Clarke-Fields does what psychologists and other mental health professionals have been doing for fifty-plus years: She invents psychological boogeymen, cutting them from whole cloth, which she then inflicts upon the unfortunate parents who read her mindful babble.
Are there people with doctorates in psychology who teach at prestigious universities like Yale who actually believe that punishment for misbehavior will wreak unholy havoc on a child’s mental health, dooming him to life in a refrigerator box under an overpass or in solitary confinement? Yes, Virginia, there are. Do the doctors in question qualify as “researchers”? Not unless anyone with a Ph.D. and an opinion is a researcher. Let me assure the reader that the research in question is about as shoddy and non-objective as shoddy and non-objective gets.
But lest I stand accused of simply having an opinion, over the course of the last forty-plus years as a “parenting expert,” I’ve privately asked hundreds of adults two questions: As a child, were you punished when you misbehaved? and Do you believe that as a direct consequence of said punishment you suffer some mental or emotional problem? I’ve yet to find a person who was not punished for misbehaving. Nor have I found someone who reports that being punished caused psychological harm. “I sometimes thought it was unfair” is about as bad as it gets. Mind you, I disqualify anyone who reports having been repeatedly abused as a child, but they are relatively few. Lest I be accused of hypocrisy, I freely admit that my poll does not qualify as science; nonetheless, the consistency of its results is a slam-dunk to the disingenuous notion that punishing a child for misbehavior is equivalent to abusing the child.
The mental health professions have embraced the postmodern notion that with enough of the right sort of social engineering, it will be possible for the engineers (themselves, mostly) to create utopia. The logical place to begin the engineering in question, should it ever come about, is with how children are raised. Expanding the definition of child abuse to include what is currently regarded as necessary to a child’s best interests would be a shrewd strategy, indeed.
If you think this is just a war of opinions of whether to punish or not to punish, think again. There’s a lot at stake here.
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Parenting Is Nothing More Than Postmodern Psychobabble
I am often asked how long I intend to keep this up, as in writing this column, writing books, and speaking on childrearing and family matters. My answer: As long as they keep it up; “it” being the utter nonsense that emanates and has been emanating from the mental health professional community since the late 1960s, nonsense that corresponds with a precipitous drop in child mental health and a dramatic rise in childhood behavior problems that were once, not so long ago, rare.
A good example of the nonsense recently emanated from mindfulness parenting coach Hunter Clarke-Fields in the form of an online excerpt from her latest book, “Raising Good Humans.” A summary of Clarke-Fields’ mindful point of view: Raising children the way parents raised children before the advent of mindful people like Hunter Clarke-Fields [that is, when child mental health and academic achievement were much, much better] is really bad.
Clarke-Fields doesn’t like parents who insist that their children do as they are told. Never mind that the very best research into parenting outcomes finds that child happiness and child obedience go hand-in-hand, HCF opines that insisting on obedience is bad because the parent “wins” and the child “loses.” This reflects the nonsensical post-1960s idea that parenting is a zero-sum game populated by villains (parents who insist upon proper behavior) and victims (children who would much rather act like uncivilized beasties because it’s much more fun and perversely rewarding).
I have to admit, I’m so “out of it” I had to look up a definition of mindfulness. I discovered, much to my non-surprise, that mindfulness is a hybrid of eastern meditative techniques (“I am the universe!”) and postmodern psychobabble. Being aware of one’s existence in the present moment and acknowledging the feelings of others is being mindful. Simply speaking, it’s paying attention and being empathic, but expressed as if the person in question is morally superior. Given that yours truly is a recovering hippie, I’ve been there, done that. When applied to raising children, to be mindful is never having to say, “Go to your room.”
According to HCF and psychologist Alan Kazdin, director of the Yale Parenting Center, “while punishment might make a parent feel better, it won’t change a child’s behavior.” The question becomes: “What parent in their right mind feels better after punishing a child?” Answer: none. By definition, a parent who “feels better” after punishing a child is a sociopath.
Intelligent parents understand that responsible parenting is not measured in terms of emotion – the parent’s or the child’s. It is measured in terms of the slow, two-steps-forward-one-step-back development of character attributes like respect for others, obedience to legitimate authority, responsibility, humility, and trustworthiness. In short, responsible parenting is not a matter of causing a child to “feel” a certain way; it’s a matter of causing a child to do the right thing.
Accomplishing that requires punishment. In order for a young child to understand that he’s done something bad, he must feel bad about it. Until they develop a functionally reliable conscience, children aren’t able to feel bad on their own about the bad things they do. That requires an outside agent, ideally an outside agent who loves the child in question unconditionally. Regretfully, it also requires punishment.
The notion that punishment “won’t change a child’s behavior” is refined nonsense. It flies in the face of commonsense, research, and my forty-seven years of experience counseling parents. Does anyone really think I’d have lasted forty-seven years if I was not dispensing helpful advice? I may have stopped trying to be mindful after watching The Beatles descend into meditation-induced temporary insanity, but I still have a mind capable of discerning sense from nonsense.
From all recent indications, the nonsense-purveyors are in it for the long run. Therefore, so am I.
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