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Parenting

POSTED: February 18, 2009 10:41 a.m.
Stand-up parenting is a rare thing these days, and if my ears are properly set to the ground, becoming rarer all the time. Parents stand up when they prove to their children they mean exactly what they say. By so "meaning," they become, in their children's eyes, "mean." Such was the case with a school-age boy who recently learned a valuable lesson in the hardest of ways.
At their most recent conference, the boy's teacher told his parents that he was talking excessively in class and not following her directions very well. The parents subsequently sat him down and told him that his participation in an upcoming field trip depended on his completely solving those problems. They made it perfectly clear that they were not willing to accept a partial solution.
Several days later, the teacher reported an incident. Two days later, she reported yet another. That evening, they told him he wasn't going on the field trip, which was still 10 days away. As one might expect, he had a major meltdown, during which he denied that his classroom behavior was a problem and threatened to be "really bad" if they didn't change their minds. They stood their ground.
"For the next 10 days," wrote his mother, "we had the best-behaved son. The teacher even asked us to change our minds, calling our attention to his greatly improved classroom behavior."
But they didn't change their minds. They followed through as promised, telling me that if they hadn't, the whole exercise would have been "a joke." Since that watershed event, the boy's behavior has been sterling, both at home and at school.
The mother writes, "The respect we saw after this one hard lesson was huge. He now knows that his dad and I are on the same page and that we don't say one thing and then do something else entirely."
I know there are folks out there who think these parents were being unreasonable. I disagree. I completely support what these parents did. They invoked what I call the agony principle: Parents and teachers should not agonize over a child's misbehavior if the child is perfectly capable of agonizing over it himself.
The agony principle embodies the fact that children have to learn some lessons the hard way. Had the boys' parents let him go on the field trip, he would have learned nothing of value. He would have learned that when he gets himself in trouble, he can get himself out of it by playing contrite. He would have learned, in short, to be manipulative, to play games. Instead, he learned that when his parents lay down the law, he needs to pay close attention.
It is a fact that today's kids are not as happy, as carefree, as kids in the 1950s. Childhood depression, once a relatively rare thing, is on the edge of epidemic today. The irony is that the 1950s' child was held to higher standards at home and at school, and the 1950s' parent was almost universally "mean." I have to believe that there's a correlation between "mean" parents and happy children. The research says as much. It says that the happiest, most well-adjusted children are also the best-behaved children. I simply propose that the parents in question say what they mean and mean exactly what they say.

Psychologist Rosemond answers questions on his Web site at www.rosemond.com.


 

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