John Rosemond: How big of a deal should kids be?

John Rosemond, nationally syndicated advice columnist photographed  at the Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., on July 16, 2013. Photo by  Pablo Alcala     Staff
John Rosemond, nationally syndicated advice columnist photographed at the Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., on July 16, 2013. Photo by Pablo Alcala Staff Lexington Herald-Leader

I ended a recent column by proposing that “while their proper upbringing is a big deal, children themselves are not.”

I’ve received some complaints from folks who insist that children are definitely a big deal. Invariably, however, they go on to defend what is already established: The raising of children is a big deal. A few examples will suffice:

“Parents need to always show unconditional love to their children. You shouldn’t even be writing a parenting column.”

“Have you lost your mind? Children are our future! No investment in children is too big.”

“I was with you until the end, then I read the last sentence and just sat there, speechless. Of all people, you should know how valuable children are and how important it is they know they’re cherished.”

Yes, unconditional love is vital to a child’s sense of well-being, because if parental love was conditional on proper behavior, significant numbers of children wouldn’t get much love. And yes, no investment in our children’s future is too big (begging the issue of the nature of any specific “investment”). And yes, children should know they are cherished. As I said, the proper raising of children is a big deal. It is the biggest of all responsibilities. Child rearing shapes culture. Proper parenting is an act of love for one’s neighbor.

But children should also know that they are no big deal. This is a point-of-view issue. I further understand that America’s parenting point of view has changed since I was a child and I was no big deal. (I don’t think I knew any other child whose parents thought he or she was a big deal, either). My point was that over the past two generations, children have become a big deal, to their detriment. Today’s child, for example, is more likely to experience a serious emotional setback before age 16 than was his 1950s counterpart. No measure of well-being that I’m aware of favors today’s kids. They are an underachieving, emotionally vulnerable lot. Many of them, for example, claim to shrivel up inside at hearing or reading certain words.

In the 1950s, the husband-wife relationship was the centerpiece of the family, and parents were clearly the most important people in one’s family. Today, children sit front and center in their families. Their parents may obtain one-tenth of what they dream of having. Today’s kids – pretty much independent of their parents’ standard of living – feel entitled to have most of their dreams come true. Their parents try to protect them from disappointment, struggle, frustration and failure – the very things, by the way, that build strong character.

The problem is that kids who are treated as if they are big deals are in danger of coming to believe that they are, in fact, big deals. Being a big deal may feel good at the time, but in the final analysis, it’s a burden, an albatross around one’s neck.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website,

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