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Many times conversations I have with others center on the need for children to obey.

Children should obey, I maintain, because — and solid research confirms common sense on this point — obedient children are happy children. The reader does not know a disobedient child who is truly happy. A child’s happiness reflects an optimistic view of life, an optimistic view of his or her ability to endure and even (perhaps) overcome obstacles, and for those reasons, an overall sense of well-being. In other words, while certain benefits accrue to parents as the result of having an obedient child, the most significant benefit is to the child.

Unbeknownst to them, today’s parents are their children’s worst enemies when it comes to obedience. They are generally uncomfortable with the idea that just as it is their job to provide unconditional love, it is also their job to provide unequivocal authority. That is why they yell — they want their children to do what they tell them to do, but they assume a pleading posture when they talk to their kids and beat around the bush when it comes to conveying decisions and instructions. So, their kids don’t obey and parents end up yelling.

Making matters worse, most of the parents I talk to around the country (I think it’s safe to say that I talk to more parents on an annual basis than anyone else in the U.S.) tell me they want their kids to cooperate. No, you don’t, I tell them. Cooperation is possible between mutually-respecting peers. You are not your child’s peer. You are the superior in the relationship and you need to embrace that fact for your child’s sake.

Authority is conveyed naturally by parents who accept that responsibility. That mindset enables relaxed but straightforward and unequivocal communication. The parents in question say what they mean and mean what they say. No means no. Their children obey simply because obedience is a child’s natural response to the proper conveyance of authority. Thus, these parents do not have to rely on consequences much, if at all.

Towards the end of a radio show I was recently on, a fellow named Marvin — he identified himself as an educator — called in to say that he disagreed with everything I was saying. Adults should collaborate with children, not coerce them, he said. I had never used the word "coercion" before, but Marvin heard what his ideological filters allowed him to hear.

“Instead of saying ‘no’ to a child,” Marvin said, “you should say ‘not yet.’”

Why? Because that is more pleasing to the child’s ears. And adults must, above all else, be pleasing to children. (I’m being sarcastic.)

To be fair, collaborative discipline is the method du jour in American education. It goes hand-in-hand with parents wanting children to cooperate. Collaboration and cooperation presume that children are rational, which they are not. They are, instead, self-centered (it is possible, therefore, for a chronological adult to be a phenomenological child). Without realizing it, Marvin gave the radio audience a glimpse into why the adult-child relationship is so often upside-down in today’s schools (including many colleges) and homes.

Marvin is an example of why America desperately needs a retro-revolution in parenting.

John Rosemond

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

 

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