Q: You seem to blame all of America’s parenting woes on mental health professionals and imply that if parents still raised kids as did people in the 1950s and before, they wouldn’t be having the problems they’re having today. But times have changed, John. Is it realistic to think that children can still be raised like their grandparents were raised?
A: Times have always changed. Since America’s colonial beginnings in the 17th century, every generation has put their own stamp on culture. Demographics, technology, politics, economics . . . you name it, it has changed, and constantly so. But through it all, the fundamental understandings that informed child-rearing remained unchanged, the simple reason being that children, unlike the “times,” do not change from one generation to another. That’s why my parents approached the responsibility of raising children pretty much the same way as had their parents, who had raised their kids the way they themselves had been raised, and so on.
In the 1960s, mental health professionals claimed that traditional child rearing was psychologically harmful. They proposed a radically new approach based on equally radical understandings and principles. Psychologists like best-selling author Thomas Gordon (“Parent Effectiveness Training”) proposed that families should be child-centered, children’s emotions contained deep meaning, and the parent-child relationship was a relationship between equals; ergo, children should be given equal sway when it came to making family decisions.
The results of this paradigm shift have been disastrous. Child mental health has plummeted. The raising of children, once regarded as a straightforward process guided by common sense and traditional principles, has become the single most stressful thing a woman will attempt in her entire life. And yes, I blame the mental health professional community – my colleagues – for this debacle because they were its architects. Ironically, they have also profited greatly from it. If one shrinks from the political incorrectness of “blame,” then insert “hold responsible.”
To raise children the way children were raised before the psychological parenting revolution of the late 1960s means to adhere to a short list of fundamental principles of fact:
1. The family operates best when parents, not children, are the center of attention; when parents run the show.
2. For the most part (95 percent, by my estimate), a child’s feelings meaning nothing except that his feelings, like his behavior, are in need of outside discipline.
3. Obedience to parental authority improves the mental and emotional health of children. That is confirmed by both research and common sense.
4. Proper child-rearing is not all about the child in question; rather, it is an act of love for one’s neighbors, broadly defined.
5. The ultimate purpose of raising a child is not to produce a high achiever; rather, it is to produce a person of character, a good citizen.
Grades are less important than manners. Making America a better place is more important than turning out a brain surgeon.
Those principles are based on the unassailable understanding that children do not know what they need; they only know what they want. The adults in their lives are responsible for giving them everything they need and very little of what they want, thus properly preparing them for adulthood.
Those understandings are timeless; they did not expire upon non-renewal by my generation. There are better and worse ways of expressing them, but they are as valid today as they were sixty-plus years ago. Per the title of my latest book, it turns out that Grandma was right after all.