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December 31, 2012

Children, Our Values, Culture, The World We All Live In...

As Tammilee Webb (of Buns of Steel fame) likes to say, "There's a major, major connection"! If parents lack the backbone to stand up for their own values in the one area where they have complete control (their own homes) at an age when children are easy to influence (toddlerhood), how on earth do they expect to handle rebellious and impulsive teenagers?

Over the holiday, the Editorial Staff have been stunned at the number of bizarre parenting articles on offer. First up is a progressive vegetarian father who - by his own admission - is shocked and horrified that his 2 year old son adores a book distributed by Evil, Hating Haters (Who Hate), but can't bring himself to perform the most basic of parenting duties: setting limits.

How this fast-food branded book got into our house, I have no idea — we are vegetarians and have never set foot in a Chick-fil-A either before or after CEO Dan Cathy’s grotesque comments about equal rights. But somehow — maybe it was a gift? — this book is here, with Cathy’s mug smiling at me and my son from the first page on the nights we read it. Which, lately, has been every night.

It’s been that way because my son loves the book, and I’m too much of a pushover to say “no.” I’m also thankful that he wants to read anything, so I go ahead and read it to him.

There are so many things wrong with this father's reasoning that it's hard to know where to begin. By his logic, if a toddler prefers junk food to a balanced diet, the caring parent feeds him cookies and chips. After all, we all want our children to grow and at least he's eating something. If he enjoys Quentin Tarantino films or gang bang videos, Pushover Dad lets Junior watch whatever he likes.

Whatever happened to parental judgment?

Why would a parent who believes that meat is murder, gay marriage is a civil rights issue, and soulless corporate demons like Chick Fil-A are single-handedly destroying "agriculturally diverse" family farms, deliberately expose his 2 year old son to a veritable Trifecta of Evil? Dithering Dad fairly wallows in pointless angst over the deceptive view of reality presented by The Jolly Farmer, but feels powerless to do anything so mundane as saying, "I'm your father, and I've decided X is not consistent with our family's values":

...They don’t want kids to equate a Chick-fil-A sandwich with inhumane treatment of chickens in crowded factory farms — they want kids to equate that sandwich with the page in the “Jolly Barnyard” where Farmer Brown feeds his chickens a treat while they roam free. They don’t want kids to equate a Chick-fil-A meal with the unsustainable and often unsafe monoculture practices of corporate agribusiness — they want kids to equate that meal with the agriculturally diverse operations of individuals like Farmer Brown.

In short, they don’t want my son and his fellow two-year-olds to equate Chick-fil-A with what Chick-fil-A really is...

The same sort of delusional cluelessness is on display in this WSJ article touting "Smarter Ways to Discipline Children":

What can be more effective are techniques that psychologists often use with the most difficult kids, including children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and oppositional defiant disorder. [Ed. note: these are what a less enlightened generation of parents used to call unacceptable behavior] Approaches, with names like "parent management training" and "parent-child interaction therapy," are backed up by hundreds of research studies and they work on typical kids, too. But while some of the approaches' components find their way into popular advice books, the tactics remain little known among the general public.

The general strategy is this: Instead of just focusing on what happens when a child acts out, parents should first decide what behaviors they want to see in their kids (cleaning their room, getting ready for school on time, playing nicely with a sibling). Then they praise those behaviors when they see them. "You start praising them and it increases the frequency of good behavior," says Timothy Verduin, clinical assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Child Study Center at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York.

So what do you do when your little darling simply refuses to go along? Ignore it? Do "smart" parents teach their children to function in the real world by rewarding them - effusively - for every good thing they do but never, ever showing anger or "negativity" when they behave poorly, are defiant, break important rules, or are inconsiderate of others? What lesson does that teach a child, other than "No matter how badly you act, there will be only mild negative consequences"?

According to parent management training, when a child does mess up, parents should use mild negative consequences (a short timeout or a verbal reprimand without shouting).

Giving a child consequences runs counter to some popular advice that parents should only praise their kids. But reprimands and negative nonverbal responses like stern looks, timeouts and taking away privileges led to greater compliance by kids according to a review article published this month in the journal Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review.

"There's a lot of fear around punishment out there," says Daniela J. Owen, a clinical psychologist at the San Francisco Bay area Center for Cognitive Therapy in Oakland, Calif. and the lead author of the study. "Children benefit from boundaries and limits." The study found that praise and positive nonverbal responses like hugs and rewards like ice cream or stickers, however, didn't lead to greater compliance in the short term. "If your child is cleaning up and he puts a block in the box and you say 'great job,' it doesn't mean the child is likely to put another block in the box," says Dr. Owen.

For some reason, we are reminded of a young man the Editorial Staff fired during her very first job as a supervisor. She was all of 21 and the young man was about the same age. Despite being told - repeatedly - what would happen if he failed to show up for his scheduled shift on New Year's Day, he called in sick...

...and then showed up to the store and pointedly played video games within 10 feet of his register.

We fired his sorry butt.
He filed a discrimination claim with the state employment commission.
When they showed up to investigate, we showed them copious documentation of his serial refusal to show up for work or follow rules.

He stayed fired. Clearly, this was an eventuality Our Hero had never considered.

Last up is another father who seems belatedly to have grasped (and been disturbed by) the distinct possibility that popular culture reflects the tastes and aggregated choices of people just like ... well... him:

Parenthood changed the way I related to popular culture in a more subtle way, too. I found that I naturally developed — I mean, without thinking about it; it was an intuitive thing — an aversion to certain modes of thought, behavior, and expression in film, music, and suchlike. This was not because these films, etc., involved children in peril, but because I found myself confronted with this question: What kind of world to people who think, talk, and act like this create for my children?

To be clear, I’m not simply talking about the world in which they will spend their childhood. I’m talking about the world in which they will live as adults, and raise kids of their own.

... we Americans are so focused on what we desire, and on our “right” to that desire, that we rarely stop to consider whether we ought to desire those things. We’re all implicated in this. I was listening in the car the other day to one of my favorite rock albums, and the thought occurred to me that if my kids were riding with me, I wouldn’t play it, because the lyrics are pretty dirty. And then I thought: should I be taking pleasure in this? Do I want my children to grow up in a world in which sex is treated in popular song so coarsely? I do not. But I have helped to create that world for them.

I’m not saying that all art must be safe for 10 year olds. Not at all! What I’m saying is that we contemporary Americans are so focused on satisfying our own pleasures, and so passive in our consumption, that we lose sight of our role as stewards of culture. Failure to exercise that role intelligently and discerningly is a choice, and we are responsible for that choice.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but ... duh! Human nature has remained fairly constant over the centuries. Cultural mores and notions of what is tolerated/accepted in public, however, have varied tremendously. It strains even our overstretched credulity that the notion that there just might be a connection between culture, values, and behavior would just now be occurring to any adult. How does one not see any connection between a world where graphic sex and extreme, gratuitous violence are popular and ubiquitous forms of entertainment and this sort of thing?

Coming to NYC public schools, the mandatory sex ed program. Among its features, according to a report in the NY Post:

Workbooks reviewed by The Post include the following assignments:

* High-school students go to stores and jot down condom brands, prices and features such as lubrication.

* Teens research a route from school to a clinic that provides birth control and STD tests, and write down its confidentiality policy.

* Kids ages 11 and 12 sort “risk cards” to rate the safety of various activities, including “intercourse using a condom and an oil-based lubricant,’’ mutual masturbation, French kissing, oral sex and anal sex.

* Teens are referred to resources such as Columbia University’s Web site Go Ask Alice, which explores topics like “doggie-style” and other positions, “sadomasochistic sex play,” phone sex, oral sex with braces, fetishes, porn stars, vibrators and bestiality.

During our growing up years, "real world skills" taught by schools were things like how to balance a checkbook. But that was a different world - one in which pretty much everything that goes on in the public square today was still happening, but one had to go looking for it (and it was generally frowned upon). People were shocked by what barely elicits a yawn these days.

In an era where individual freedom has been decoupled from individual responsibility and morality, children need limits more than ever. We can't protect them from everything, but we can at least look at the world we've created honestly and teach our children the skills they need to make good decisions.

Alternatively, we can praise them effusively and turn a blind eye to problems.

Posted by Cassandra at December 31, 2012 08:32 AM

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Apparently Sirota doesn't allow comments (or my red meat-ravaged brain was too blood-fevered to find the way), else I'd have asked him what it was that he was parodying, because he couldn't possibly have been serious in that post. It was amusing, but I don't quite get his joke.

I’m too much of a pushover to say “no.”

That's just because he wants his son to grow up as much a self-centered spoiled brat as he is.

Whatever happened to parental judgment?

Umm, one has to be a parent in order to have parental judgment. Having successfully conjoined and subsequently brought a child into this world is not the same as being a parent.

stern looks, timeouts and taking away privileges led to greater compliance

I found a stern swat on the fanny (or two), promptly administered, to be quite effective.

Finally, Ms Hofman may think she's on the right track, but why on Earth would a child need an entertainment center that occasionally makes phone calls on the side? Why does he need a personal phone at all?

But at least she is trying to set limits.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at December 31, 2012 12:41 PM

I strongly suspect that I would be reported to Child Protective Svcs these days.

I didn't let my sons have a phone in their room until Senior year in HS and didn't let them have a PC in their room at all. When you consider that I truly had NO idea how much garbage was freely available the Internet even back then, that speaks volumes.

Of course I refused to buy either of them a GameBoy either. When they got home from school, they could either read or go outside and play ball or ride their bikes. I didn't forbid them from playing video games at other people's houses, but it just never made sense to me to let them spend as much time madly pushing buttons as their friends did.

On the otter heiny, I DID let them roam pretty freely and walk to school and other supposedly dangerous activities that seem to be unthinkable nowadays. I let them ride their bikes on the street and play ball in the street (when a car comes, you need to get out of the way) and play down by the water when we lived in SC, despite the snakes and other "hazards". And I let them have a small glass of wine with holiday dinners from a fairly young age. They never finished it :p

I also swatted them occasionally and was not averse to letting them have it verbally if they started to talk back. I didn't tolerate that at all. In return, I tried to be respectful of them, always being mindful that they weren't miniature adults, but children who lacked adult experience, judgment, and self discipline.

Like I said, I'd be arrested these days :p

Posted by: Cassandra at December 31, 2012 12:56 PM

Well, when I was a toddler, my mother did catch a lot of grief: I ran with a pack of Dinky Town, IA's free-ranging pet dogs. Mom got it from all the busy-bodies who all thought I was going to get bitten/get rabies from all those dangerous pet dogs. Never mind that I was the safest kid in that town, courtesy of my slobbery body guard unit.

She caught more crap: I spent a lot of hours in the back yard tied to the clothes line in a dog harness. Sometimes I ran too far.

How cruel.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at December 31, 2012 01:02 PM

...why on Earth would a child need an entertainment center that occasionally makes phone calls on the side? Why does he need a personal phone at all?

I have to admit that I would not buy my child an iPhone (or any smartphone). I just don't think they need one.

But I'll play Devil's advocate here: one possible reason is to teach them to handle responsibility and temptation (knowing they'll almost certainly screw up). I wasn't strictly fair between my two sons - it was often my judgment that one or the other could handle a temptation or responsibility better than the other.

I can think of several examples where I let my oldest do something at a certain age, but not my youngest and vice versa. I tried to let their behavior and maturity guide me, rather than trying to make everything "fair".

Posted by: Cassandra at December 31, 2012 01:02 PM

She caught more crap: I spent a lot of hours in the back yard tied to the clothes line in a dog harness. Sometimes I ran too far.

That's funny :)

One of my most-used pieces of equipment when my boys were toddlers was a harness. I used it to clip them to shopping carts (both my boys were part monkey and would climb on anything - this kept them from launching themselves head first out of the cart or stroller). I also used the 'leash' part in busy airports - I flew twice with a baby strapped to my chest or back and a VERY active 3 year old who, though he was very good about holding my hand, could disappear faster than anyone's business.

Some people get really offended when they see a kid on a lead like that, but honestly - how is one person supposed to get two suitcases, a car seat, a 3 year old, and a baby across a big airport like Atlanta without losing track of something?

Better a little injury to whatever dignity a 3 year old boy possesses than to lose him in a crowd.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 31, 2012 01:07 PM

DAing the phone: lots of ways to teach responsibility; I don't need to be strapped to a phone for that.

As to making through Hartsfield, when I was traveling lots, that was a failed enterprise. My wife tells me things have gotten better.

You solve getting through security by putting the little tyke and baby into the TSA baskets (separate baskets) and send them on through. That'll be less intrusive than the molestation they're going to get.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at December 31, 2012 01:31 PM

Will I get a trophy for participating in this discussion?

Posted by: a former european at December 31, 2012 02:27 PM

Will I get a trophy for participating in this discussion?

Yes, but we cannot hope to rival the magnificence and stature of your Ginormous Codpiece, afe :p

Posted by: Cassandra at December 31, 2012 03:11 PM

Indeed, Cass. The magnificence of my ginormous codpiece is its own trophy, and evident to all who gaze upon its glory.:)

Posted by: a former european at December 31, 2012 09:03 PM

I would like to see what happens when one of the little darlings replies "Whatever" to his/her boss.

Posted by: SeaDog52 at January 1, 2013 01:47 AM

The magnificence of my ginormous codpiece is its own trophy....

But is it really worth the cost of all that cotton batting?

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at January 1, 2013 09:42 AM

"Slouching towards Gomorrah" about somes this up pretty well.

Posted by: CAPT Mongo at January 1, 2013 10:06 AM

'I would like to see what happens when one of the little darlings replies "Whatever" to his/her boss.'

A reprimand from the boss, followed by a successful civil rights action awarding damages to the traumatized employee. The purpose of a job is to provide a nurturing environment and a living wage to the worker, not to permit the employer to indulge his fantasies of domination and normative social controls, or to engorge the giant corporation's already obscene profits.

Posted by: Texan99 at January 3, 2013 11:14 AM