An individual who occupies a fairly high-level position in the mainstream media recently told one of my associates that I’m “old-fashioned.” She meant it as a slight, but I hardly took it that way. I do, in fact, espouse a child-rearing philosophy and approach that prevailed when I was a child. To my media critic, I’m a throwback.
When I came out of graduate school in 1972, I was thoroughly indoctrinated in psychological parenting theory and convinced that pre-1960s parenting had compromised child mental health; that it had to go; that its demise would bring about a childhood utopia upon which we — I’d been a radical student activist, progressive to the core — could build a brave new world.
Two wake-up calls came in 1979. I realized, courtesy of my supervisor at the Charlotte (NC) Mental Health Center that clinical psychology, for all of its scientific pretenses, was an ideology that cared little to nothing for research that contradicted its icons and idols. The second came when my son’s very rational third-grade teacher told me that he was the worst-behaved child she had seen in 20 years of teaching.
That caused my wife and I to reverse course and begin raising our children the way we ourselves had been raised: chores, a minimum of after-school activities, the unwavering assignment of personal responsibility, and discipline that was less talk and more action. The results were nothing short of amazing. Within three months, our son had gone from being a classroom sociopath to being, in that same teacher’s words, “a model student.”
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I’ve been espousing a retro-parenting message ever since, becoming, along the way, evermore convinced that my profession has caused more problems for children, parents, families, schools, and culture than psychologists know how to solve. I miss no opportunity to say exactly that, which has not endeared me to my colleagues (albeit there are those who somewhat secretly agree with me).
I’m old-fashioned (as opposed to progressive) because I care about research, and the research is clear that emotional resilience, the essence of good mental health, the ability to deal functionally with disappointment and failure, resides best in children raised by parents who adhere, whether wittingly or not, to the pre-1960s paradigm: a whole lot of love and a whole lot of unwavering, unequivocal authority.
I’m old-fashioned because the new paradigm, built on the shifting sands of unproven and even disproven psychological theory, has informed a 10-fold worsening of child and teen mental health since the 1960s. I’m old-fashioned because the old way taught children, within their families, what good citizenship was all about: to wit, respect for and service to others. The new way, by contrast, emphasized esteem for the Almighty Self.
The goal of infusing children with high self-esteem has proven to be a complete bust. No good — zero, zilch, nada — has come of it. In fact, it just might factor highly into the psychology of the typical school shooter. We know, for example, that women in relationships with high-self-esteem males are in significant danger of emotional and physical abuse. I’m old-fashioned because I absolutely know that high self-esteem is a problem, not a solution to a problem.
I’m old-fashioned because the nouveau approach to discipline — based on what I call “consequence-delivery-systems” — has completely failed. I’m old-fashioned because I absolutely know that behavior modification does not work on human beings, that the proper discipline of a child is accomplished with a certain attitude, not certain methods.
My media critic also claims that I appeal primarily to grandparents. She should come to one of my speaking engagements, where the word that best describes the age range represented in my audiences is one she surely appreciates: diversity.
Family psychologist John Rosemond can be reached at www.johnrosemond.com.