Q: I’ve read enough of your writings to know that you think children should be obedient, that they should do what they are told. I want my children to think for themselves and to question authority, not to blindly obey simply because someone is bigger than they are. I don’t want them thinking that “might makes right.” What’s with wanting children to be robots?
A: To paraphrase Steven Stills (of Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young fame), your question is continuing evidence that the utopianism of the 1960s struck deep into the heart of America, especially American parenting, and is still lodged there.
I’m as familiar with research into child development, child behavior and parenting as anyone can be. Some, maybe even most, isn’t worth the paper on which it’s printed, but the best evidence from the best research is that the happiest kids are also the most obedient. When one finds an arbitrarily rebellious individual (I speak from personal experience), one finds a malcontent.
Children are, by nature, rebellious. Mind you, they have no rational reason to be rebellious (someone else — generally, the person or people toward whom they are the most rebellious — is supporting them); therefore, their rebelliousness is arbitrary. That rebellious nature compromises their mental, emotional and social health. It is in their best interests that they become obedient. While parents of obedient children enjoy advantages and conveniences not enjoyed by parents of disobedient children, the benefits of obedience accrue primarily to the child. Likewise, the price of disobedience is ultimately borne by the child.
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There is no evidence that obedient children do not or will not be able to think for themselves; that they are or will become “robots” vulnerable to having their minds controlled by every evil ideologue who comes along. The notion is silly. In the first place, being a parent involves the desire to pass your values to your progeny. It is a trait common to responsible parents across the “diversity” spectrum that they want their children to think like they do. If you hold to a certain ideological bias, you don’t want your kids to hold to a different one.
This business of “I want my children to think for themselves” is nothing but a means of proclaiming one’s moral superiority — one’s tolerance and acceptance of every and all points of view. Besides, it doesn’t matter what you teach your kids; when they grow up they will examine the options available to them and they will, ultimately, “think for themselves.” Even if they end up subscribing to your values, they have arrived at that conclusion through the process of free will.
Obedience on the part of a child to legitimate adult authority figures is an act of trust; the child trusts that the adult is always acting in the child’s best interest, even when the child does not like what the adult has done or decided. The child trusts; therefore, the child obeys. The opposite is equally true, by the way.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website, Rosemond.com.
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