My profession, psychology, began demonizing traditional childrearing in the late 1960s. I was in graduate school at the time and on fire for the promise that the proper use of psychological principles could perfect the raising of children and thereby usher in the social utopia we (young boomers whose heads were enveloped in clouds of youthful idealism) thought possible, even imminent.
Children could be reasoned with. Punishment damaged self-esteem (the supposed brass ring of a good life). In the ideal family, parents and children “ruled” equally. Time-out – which takes the all-time Parenting Boondoggle Award – would correct all misbehavior. Children should be given lots of choices and allowed to express their feelings freely. Those are but a sample of the new psychological parenting narratives. Unfortunately, American parents fell en masse for this revisionism and child mental health has been in a tailspin ever since.
The propaganda boiled down to “if your parents and grandparents did it, don’t do it.” One of the upshots of this was what I call “yada-yada discipline” – the attempt to discipline by dialogue, through persuasive appeal to a child’s inherent irrationality and self-centeredness.
Two grandparents recently shared the story of their four-year-old male grandchild who was expressing his feelings freely by wetting his pants whenever the urge arose.
“He didn’t see the point of stopping whatever he was doing to use the toilet,” they said.
Indeed, he didn’t see the point because the point was a dull attempt on his parents’ part to talk him out of it. Yes, they occasionally became frustrated enough to send him to his room, which bothered him none because his room was an entertainment complex, a perfectly suitable place in which to spend a few minutes, even hours. To further demonstrate his disregard, he would often wet his pants on the way to his room, leaving tiny puddles of urine in his wake.
After several attempts, a pediatrician was unable to come up with a remedial drug. A therapist also came up empty-handed. Just prior to reaching the end of their wits, said parents read, in their local newspaper, a column written by a certain renegade psychologist that set forth a cure to spontaneous lazy boy bladder leakage disorder (SLBBLD).
From that point on, the lazy boy’s parents did three simple things: first, when he wet his clothes, he washed them in a bucket of soapy water; second, if he left a puddle on the floor, he wiped up the puddle and then washed the entire floor; third, when his labors were done (to his parents’ satisfaction) he spent the remainder of the day in the bathroom and was in bed immediately after supper.
What drugs and therapy had not moved was cured in one day. As I write, he is no longer a lazy boy. Far from it, in fact. He is a fully functioning adult who is neither beset with bathroom phobia nor haunted by nightmares of bucket monsters chasing him down labyrinthine corridors.
The moral to the story is the moral to many a parenting story these days: If your parents and grandparents did it, then (with the obvious exceptions) you should follow their example.
Some things never change, among which is common sense.
Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com.