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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Parents worry too much about disappointing kids

By John Rosemond

One of the great ironies of our time is that today's parents, with more professional resources at their disposal than ever before, are experiencing more and greater problems in the area of discipline than their grandparents even thought possible.

Once upon a not-so-very-long-ago time, children were mischievous. They tried to get away with what they thought they could when adults weren't looking. All too many of today's kids are surly, rude, disrespectful, ill-mannered, petulant and openly defiant.

The nature of the child has not changed in 50 years, so the problem must lie with changes in how parents are going about their job. Indeed, today's "parenting" bears little resemblance to the child rearing of 50-plus years ago. Even if one overlooks such things as working moms, daycare and the single-parent family, the differences between then and now are considerable.

In the good old days (and make no mistake about it, while not idyllic, they were better), parents concentrated their energies on shaping character. They were intent on raising children who embodied the Three R's of respect, responsibility and resourcefulness. Today's parents seek to raise children who possess high self-esteem, which researchers have found is correlated with low tolerance for frustration, low self-control and a sense of personal entitlement. Be careful what you wish for, eh?

Yesterday's parents valued good manners. Today's parents value skills and accomplishments, especially academic. Along with many if not most of my peers, I entered first grade not knowing my ABCs. My first-grade teacher taught 50 children. She had far fewer discipline problems than a first-grade teacher today who, with an aide, teaches 20. Furthermore, those 50 kids none of whom were held back because of late birthdays exited first-grade reading better than today's first-grade grads, many of whom knew their ABCs before their fourth birthdays.

Yesterday's parents didn't much care what grades their kids brought home as long as the grades reflected their children's best efforts. Mothers didn't help their children with homework, nor did they challenge teachers who reported misbehavior. If a child misbehaved in school, the teacher's report was accepted, and the child got into double trouble at home. But then yesterday's parents understood that one could not be a good enough parent to prevent one's child from behaving despicably on any given day. Today's parents seem to think that despicable behavior reflects bad parenting; therefore, today's kids are incapable of behaving despicably.

In those better days, when you misbehaved, your parents tried to make you feel guilty. Many of today's parents try to discipline their children without causing guilt, not realizing that the anticipation of guilt is the best preventive of misbehavior, not the anticipation of "negative consequences." Most people in my generation will testify that knowing you disappointed your parents was the worst consequence of all. Needless to say, today's parents are more concerned about disappointing their kids than their kids are about disappointing them, if they are even concerned at all.

The bottom line: You cannot raise children in two different ways and arrive at the same outcome. I sometimes ask parents, "Who would you rather be raising, you or your child?" Eight out of 10 answer along these lines: "Oh, that's a no-brainer. Me, of course."

Unfortunately, that's not the right answer.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions at www.rosemond.com.