The Modern Parenting Dilemma

Henry H. Lindner

 

Most parents are stuck in a dilemma. They are living Jesus' parable about pouring new wine into old bottles. The old bottles represent in this case the authoritarian type of childrearing--the way they themselves were raised. It consisted of:

  1. Iron discipline--Obedience was required and disobedience severely punished, by beatings when necessary. Children were forced to toilet train early, do work in the fields and around the house, and go to church.
  2. Support--Mom and Dad were both there to help out. Mom was always home. There was often an extended family that provided further security and support.
  3. Control of information--The child had no access to knowledge that would challenge his parental and societal belief system. He could not know that life could be different.

The authoritarian system functioned. It produced conformity to society's rules. It produced fearful people who didn't dare think for themselves and who wouldn't dream of being selfish or breaking any laws. Our society's institutions are still structured on this authoritarian system. Coercive public schooling is the most prominent example of the old system's institutions.

However, today's parents are somewhat "enlightened". They lived through the cultural revolution of the 60's. They have more respect for their child as a person. They don't demand obedience at all times and they don't have the cruelty required to "break the child's will" and produce complete obedience. They've been taught that hitting the child is "child abuse". They want their child to develop his own creativity and thought. At the same time, they're pursuing their own self-actualization. Both Mom and Dad are deeply involved in their careers and have little time for children or housework. So both aspects of the old system have broken down, but a new system has not taken its place:

  1. Leniency and License has replaced Iron discipline--the parents are both pressed for time and must force the child to go to day-care and school and do their homework. Since they won't beat the kids, they resort to offering incentives (candy and toys), restrictions, or imprisonment ("time-out" and "grounding"). The whole process is accompanied by much lecturing and rationalizing about why the child must do this or that--which just confuses the child. The child is forced to comply, not with God's rules, but only with his parents' and his schools' demands--"for his own good". On the other hand, either because they're "enlightened", have a guilty concience, or just lack the time, the parent fails to demand that the child respect the parents' own rights. They neglect the natural and essential elements of a child's socialization in the family while enforcing the unnatural demands of their society.
  2. Neglect has replaced Support--The parents are not home. Mom is pursuing a career. The child often is raised by daycare workers or by an overworked, overstressed single parent. There is not sufficient support to meet the child's needs and win the child's love. The child is angry and mentally disorganized. The child is not able, and has no incentive to comply with coercive schooling and the rest of the old system's rules.
  3. Information as replace Ignorance--Through television and the internet, children know that life can be different. They know how other children in other families or other cultures live. They know that much of what they're taught is false. They watch shows like The Simpsons which expose the hypocracy and evil of schooling and of many aspects of our society.

So we have what we've got: children who are ill-suited to the strict authoritarian regime of the school, who've been allowed to think that they deserve a better life, and who don't have the support they need to sublimate their animal energy and will in order to conform to a system that just doesn't make sense anymore. We have a breakdown of "discipline" in our schools and society. We have a lot of very angry, neglected and coerced children. We have boys who cannot and will not tolerate the mind-numbing boredom of school and girls who just tune out. These children are labelled as mentally-ill (Depression, Attention-deficit Disorder, Conduct Disorder) and are drugged. Thus psychiatry serves as a convenient way for parents, school, and government to blame the child and ignore their own deep-seated problems.

We must instead create new bottles for new wine. We must create a societal system that corresponds to our better ideas about children and childrearing. First and foremost, we must completely separate the State from child education and development. Eliminate coercive public schooling and allow children to become integrated into the real world of the adults. Allow a free market of learning to develop that can offer every sort of full or part-time learning experience. This huge change in the system will free children and parents from the old coercive mental paradigm of childrearing and allow an entirely different attitude and lifestyle to develop. Eventually, our society will be based upon love and cooperation, not on cruelty and coercion.

 

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