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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Debate Reveals How Parents Go Wrong

John Rosemond The Charlotte Observer

Every so often, a controversy over this column will erupt in the pages of a subscribing newspaper. I make it a policy not to stick my two-cents worth into such matters, but in the case of a dispute generated in The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, I’m moved to make an exception, simply because my critics there exemplify the problem with a permissive approach to parenting.

The controversy began with a guest editorial, written by a 44-year-old mother of two. She described hers as a “not hitting” home where her children can eat whatever they like, when they like and go to bed when they choose. She correctly perceives that my parenting philosophy - which she characterizes as “dictatorial” - and hers are worlds apart.

She’s “angry” because I think there’s a time and place for an occasional spanking, and “disgusted” because I think the most “laid back” (as in relaxed and self-possessed) mothers do the best jobs. She thinks it’s sad I advocate saying “no” to children four times as often as one says “yes.” And so on.

As I said, worlds apart.

Her editorial prompted a spate of replies on The Spokesman-Review’s opinion pages. There were many letters, but in one batch of eight respondents, two agreed my advice is pernicious.

One identified herself as a mom, the other as a “professional practicing in the field of child development.” The former indicated her parents “used many of Rosemond’s methods, and it took me years of my adult life to teach myself to be an independent thinker.” The latter described spanking as “the most brutal act a parent can visit on a child” and opined that my approach to parenting “stifles” a child’s desire to learn and results in children becoming “obedient, compliant ciphers.”

Because my position on parenting styles is validated by the best research done on the subject, I don’t take these things personally.

The research was done by psychologist Diana Baumrind, who conducted a decade-long study of parenting styles and child behaviors. She found parents who used disciplinary spanking as part of an “authoritative” - as in loving, but firm - style had the most well-adjusted (in the fullest sense of the term) children.

The worst outcomes in child behavior came with parents who were either permissive and philosophically disapproving of spanking, or rejecting and rigid. Ironically, Baumrind found that permissive parents who did not approve of spanking were prone to “explosive attacks of rage in which they inflicted more pain or injury upon the child than they had intended.”

In my view, unconditional love is essential to proper child rearing, but idealistic sentiment encumbers one’s ability to act in a child’s best interest. I don’t enjoy making children unhappy, but I accept the necessity of occasionally doing so.

Permissive parents have great difficulty making children unhappy, regardless of the situation. They will do anything to avoid being seen by their children as “bad guys.”

Baumrind found that in so doing, they fail to establish firm limits (i.e. letting their children set their own bedtimes, choose their own food) and the children, as a consequence, are more prone to the sort of social difficulties that come from lacking self-control.

In short, permissive parents fail to see that firm discipline results in less need to discipline, and therefore creates a more relaxed, thus affectionate, climate between parent and child.

Over the more than two decades I’ve been writing this column, I’ve noticed permissive parents share a tendency to justify their approach to child rearing by demonizing those of us who are more pragmatically inclined.

One of my Spokane critics characterized my advice as “stereotypically male, medieval and dangerous.”

The question begged becomes: Is there evidence that children fare poorly in the care of males, or that medieval parents were generally hurtful? The answer is no, twice.

With regard to my supposed gender-blinders, of six pro-Rosemond letters printed by The Spokesman-Review, four were from women.

I’m reminded of a quote from Oscar Wilde: “If you cannot answer a man’s argument, do not panic. You can always call him names.”


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