Last week’s column concerned the corrosive 1960s idea that children should be allowed to express their feelings freely, which all too many of today’s kids obviously believe is their prerogative.
This week we’ll look at the notion that parents should not answer challenges to their authority with “Because I said so.”
The new parent-babblers – mental health professionals, mostly –maintained that those four words insult a child’s intelligence, damage self-esteem and send the message that might makes right.
The upshot is that parents began explaining themselves to their children. These explanations lead almost inevitably to arguments. The arguments lead to frustration, resentment, yelling, guilt and other symptoms of family dysfunction. What’s that old saying about good intentions?
Effective leaders act like they know what they are doing. “Because I said so” is simply part of the act – an important part, no less. It also keeps things simple for those being led. They do not have to know what the leader knows; they simply have to trust.
So, as regards children, those much-maligned four words are an economical way of saying “At this point in your life, you are incapable of understanding how I make decisions. Explanations, therefore, are superfluous to your happiness. For now, all you need to do is trust me.”
“But John,” a reader might well reply, “if a child asks a question, doesn’t the child deserve an answer?”
Yes, but “Why?!” and “Why not?!”– in belligerent response to parental decisions – are not questions. They are challenges to authority. If they were genuine questions, children would listen respectfully and at least occasionally agree. Instead, they interrupt and begin arguing.
Which is to say, there is no such thing as an argumentative child. There are only parents who are not comfortable with their authority and cannot bring themselves, therefore, to say “Because I said so.”