In the late 1960s, childrearing shifted from molding character to “shaping” behavior. Prior to this revolution, proper parenting was a matter of providing unconditional love and unequivocal leadership. Discipline was the process by which parents transformed the anti-social toddler into a pro-social human being who was respectful of legitimate authority as well as the rights of others, willing to accept responsibilities, and determined to overcome obstacles. These were character issues.
It’s obvious that a good number of today’s parents fail to respond adequately to misbehavior. They ignore what is clearly more than mere mischief, they deny that their children are brats, they make excuses for them, and so on. These parents are a principal’s and teacher’s worst nightmare.
But on the other side of the discipline coin one finds a good number of parents who over-discipline. These parents are obsessive-compulsive when it comes to their children’s behavior. Producing the perfect child appears to be their raison d’etre.
They end up micro-managing their children’s behavior, creating more problems in the long run than they solve. No matter the context, micro-management always breeds resentment, deceit and eventual rebellion. At the very least, that sort of parenting style fails to teach a child the inestimable benefits of self-control.
Or their kids get to college, can’t deal with the independence and collapse emotionally or academically or both.
The path back to parenting sanity lies in re-establishing the training of character as the top priority.
That will require (among other things) eschewing the post-1960s emphasis on self-esteem and rebooting the traditional emphasis on the rights of others, balancing after-school activities with unpaid household chores, and restoring the teaching of manners, beginning with table manners (starting with eating what is put in front of you without complaint).
Ultimately, this will require that parents abandon the pursuit of success and happiness for their kids and pursue instead the goal of making America a better place.
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