Older rules might be worth a new try with kids

By John Rosemond / McClatchy-Tribune News Service

As the old parenting point of view fell out of fashion beginning in the late 1960s, the vernacular that accompanied it all but completely disappeared. Today’s parents don’t say to their children the sorts of things parents said to children in the 1950s and before, things like “You’re acting too big for your britches again, young man.”

Nearly every child raised in the good old days of American childhood (and if you want verification of the fact that they were indeed good old days, go to the Internet and search child mental health and school achievement trends since the 1950s) was told, on occasion, that he was busting the seams on his britches, or was up on his high horse, or must think the world revolved around him, or couldn’t see past the end of his own nose. These days, it is the rare child who has been told those things. Today, pithy sayings of that sort constitute parentally incorrect speech.

Children still act too big for their britches, of course — all children, in fact, to varying degrees. Likewise, they still get up on their high horses, think the world revolves around them and have great difficulty seeing past the ends of their own pug noses. But pointing those things out to them has become wrong. Confronting them with their self-centeredness would lower their self-esteem, which was precisely the point.

In the parenting dark ages, parents did not want their children to develop high esteem for themselves. Then, psychologists said that high self-esteem was a good thing, and so parents began to believe that there were indeed new parenting things under the sun. As a consequence, most of today’s kids have no reason to rein in their natural self-centeredness. Believing that it — whatever “it” might be at any given point in space and time — is all about the Almighty Me has become, in fact, a childhood entitlement. And child mental health has slid precipitously downhill since “you’re acting too big for your britches” became incorrect parent speech.

Likewise, children used to hear that they were to be seen and not heard, the purpose of which was to establish a boundary between adults and children. Without any proof that being seen and not heard was bad, psychologists said it was bad. And so, like being too big for one’s britches, being seen and not heard went into the dustbin.

The boundary that once separated adult and child cultures served the purpose of causing children to look up to adults, to aspire to become adults. Since 1970, the average age of successful male emancipation has risen nearly seven years. Think there might be some connection?

And then there’s “Because I said so.” That’s bad, too. Odd, because adults who do not accept the authority behind “because I said so” from their employers, government and certain people in uniform will pay a penalty. Accepting legitimate authority (in the short term at least) is a good thing. It maintains civilization. We are all better off for it.

Likewise, obedient children are much happier and more emotionally sturdy than disobedient children. So says the best research. And make no mistake: obedient children are not an accident of biology. Their parents are not lucky. By definition, the obedient child does not do what his parents tell him to do because they give him good reasons. He does what they tell him to do because they tell him to do it.