There’ll never come a moment where parents come together and say to themselves, “Hey, that was easy, I’m glad we’ve got this child rearing thing all figured out.” But in so much as we may not have everything figured out, we do have a lot figured out. The challenge usually comes in the implementation rather than complete conundrum. Yet, while this is true, there are a number of parents who are still in the dark on a couple of issues, particularly in America.
The problem I think, stems from the fact that parents are unwilling to treat their children as human beings. This country bears witness to parents who train their children with such outdated strategies that dog trainers now get better results with dogs than humans have with other people. Parents must move out of this mindset that children are not property or pets, but little people. People who have rights, responsibilities, and are motivated by very similar things as adults, and should be treated like adults. Obviously I don’t mean had a five year old the keys to the family car or give a 12 year old a credit card. Of course I also wouldn’t hand the reigns of a multinational corporation to my doctor, or trust the CEO of my bank to cut out my tonsils. We give each according to their gifts and ability. Children must learn and be taught. They grow, just as adults continue to learn and be taught. We grow, though in other ways. Hopefully.
Like adults, children deserve respect. We do not hit adults. Why? what’s the moral imperative here? It’s is one of personal autonomy. More than being moral, it’s practical. Violence begets retaliation and, if for no other reason, it’s illegal. There are more reasons, it’s beyond the scope of this blog to list them all. When we seek to control an individual through violence, we’ve taken something from them. We have damaged them. In the short run, it’s easy to control children through shouting, threats, violence (hitting, slapping, spanking), or physical domination, but it’s nothing short of abuse, just as it’d be for adults.
We do not shout at other adults. Not if we seriously expect to have a reasonable dialogue or to solve problems. Sure, we can have verbal fisticuffs but they are neither practical nor productive. They are certainly not the hallmark of reason and civility that we strive to teach our children.
More important, how we treat our kids are how they are going to treat others. Your answer to a noisy child is to shout and tell them to shut up? Your answer to a chaotic situation is their answer to a chaotic situation. When we seek to control children through force instead of reason and dialogue we see a couple of things. The “control” that this kind of coercion doesn’t persist once the parent is gone. You will not solve the bad behavior, you just displace it where it will continue to have consequences.
The second consequence of an authoritarian parenting style is it fails to teach kids how to deal with conflict. Children will treat their siblings and other with the same kind of coercive methods they have learned from their parents. Except the consequences are different. Children don’t posses the same power imbalance with each other that they have with their parents. So a child who has learned to control a situation without reason or dialogue simply escalates the situation. Since a child obviously can not challenge an authoritarian parents, he has no idea what to do when his own attempts at authoritarianism doesn’t work. He’s told his friend to shut up, but his friend gets angry and does not shut up. Now what does he do? He tries again with stronger language, because that’s what happens when things don’t go as planned in an authoritative household. If the situation hasn’t completely escalated out of control, it certainly has now.
Now something else happens that the kid does not expect. Parents do not suffer consequences from their use of authority. Children do. As your kid’s teacher I now have to step in and correct this behavior, which the child does not understand because it’s the accepted form of behavior in his house. Even if that was not a consideration, he’s now crippled his relationships with his friends. Because he’s learned an authoritative style of conflict resolution, he has no tools to seek rapprochement. You precious little baby sincerely believes that he has the right to demand others be his friends. When they decline his generous offer, he’ll seek redress from the teacher in the belief that as an adult I can enforce his whims. Just like you can demand apologies, and other kinds of feelings at home. He or she will be confused when I tell them there’s nothing I can do.
There’s a very excellent analogy to the parent child relationship. It’s the employer/employee relationship. In the workplace there exists a power imbalance between bosses and their employees. That’s one reason why it’s exceedingly difficult for a boss to date an employee. It’s possible for a boss to yell and shout at employees but it’s unlikely to be productive. The relationship has rewards, responsibilities, and consequences for all parties. Conflicts must be resolved through dialogue. The difference is that you can’t fire your kid. But you do need to treat them with the respect you would give another person. You need to work things out with your kids. Obviously it doesn’t mean being a doormat any more than your boss is a doormat when conflicts arise.