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Kids are obviously stakeholders in their own lives, and like most other stakeholders they generally want and deserve to have input into decisions made about the course of their lives, if not having the final say on those decisions.  There seem to be a lot of adults, who play a stewardship role in kids’ lives as parents, teachers, etc. that don’t seem to get this.  Or maybe relying on inappropriate myths or conventional cultural wisdom, they think their responsibility as stewards to these kids somehow trumps kids’ own right to self-direction.

We adults mostly understand this when dealing with other adults, and our society and most of its institutions basically "get it" that adult stakeholders should have input or even the final say in key decisions in their lives, unless they are say convicted criminals or judged mentally incompetent.  This is a key element of the whole evolving concept of individualism over the past five centuries of human history and thought in the transition from feudal monarchies to citizen republics and free enterprise.  

But when it comes to youth, our society and its institutions are often still inclined to use that older feudal model minimizing their input into the conduct of their own young lives.  Youth are still often treated more as chattel than citizens.

Having said that, I will acknowledge that it makes sense that the whole idea of someone being categorized as a "youth" or a "child" is an indication that they are not considered ready to be granted the full rights and responsibilities of majority, including the political rights of a "citizen".  Adults given stewardship of one or more youths (as parents, educators, etc) have a significant legitimate responsibility making key decisions and setting parameters for the youth that they steward.

But to the extent that adults make all key decisions for youth and in many cases don’t even seek the youth’s input, they are basically treating that youth the way our society treats adult criminals or adults found to be mentally incompetent.  I would argue that this behavior is not based on reality, but on a persistent but inappropriate cultural mythology, which is thousands of years old and was previously applied to adults as well, those adults who were slaves, serfs, women or otherwise seen as chattel.

Here is some of that conventional wisdom and cultural mythology that gets applied to informal and institutional relationships and interactions between adults and youth...

1. Children should be seen and not heard

I have always known this as one of the classic bromides from "the old days" that I assumed was basically archaic.  The people I know in my Baby-Boom generation were not raised this way.  Further, I have always thought that a generation of TV situation-comedies of family life, from "Good Times" in the early 70’s to "The Cosby Show" or "Fresh Prince" in the 90’s had to have put the final nail in that coffin that kids should not be heard.

But now from more of the perspective of the adult, and looking at how our education system is run, I see that this conventional wisdom is still enforced in most schools.  Children should be "seen" (that is show up each morning in school or face disciplinary action) but not "heard" (not give input or participate in the governance of these institutions where they are required to spend so much time).

As formal and patriarchal as I imagine family life used to be under this dictate, I think much of our school system continues to be today, with this "rule" still essentially in force.

2. Spare the rod and spoil the child

This is the other classic of this conventional wisdom, famously providing the justification for paddling, switching, ruler on the knuckles, "the belt", taking the kid "out to the wood shed", or whatever form of corporal punishment was employed.  "Call it spanking or whatever you want," my mom (who did not believe in punishment of any kind) used to say, "It’s still hitting kids."

Though most corporal punishment is now generally considered barbaric in our and many other cultures (while some other cultures still go so far as to kill youth, particularly sexually active young women, that misbehave), a  non-physical corollary still generally holds sway in our culture, often voiced or written as "children need consequences".  Truly, everything you do in life has ramifications, but "consequences" used in this context I believe is a stand in for "the rod".  So the thinking goes, if kids are not punished for bad behavior, their natural willfulness and depravity will consume and ruin their ability to become disciplined adults.

I see this as a remnant of the Calvinist idea that human beings are by nature suffer from innate moral depravity (see my post on "American Calvin").

Beyond these classics, I see an additional handful of (what I would call inappropriate) myths of modern conventional wisdom guiding adult stewardship of youth...

3. Adults must always be in control

In my thinking, this is a modern attempt to medicate the fear that since we are literally "sparing the rod" as a cultural norm, plus allowing kids to be "heard" (speak up, at least outside of school), that our kids will gain control of their lives, make irrevocably wrong choices and become "spoiled" goods, and humiliate us in our role as their adult stewards.

The myth is that if adults ever show a lack of leadership or resolve to make a decision in regard to the youth that they steward those youth will "walk all over them" in an "inmates running the asylum" scenario.  This is more of that Calvinist innate moral depravity stuff.

The reality is that youth generally accept that adults are in a legitimate position of authority, unless the adults are abusing their power or the youth have a history of being brutalized or neglected by adults operating as their stewards.  But just like most adults, kids deserve and need autonomy, and don’t want it rubbed in their faces that someone else is exercising authority over them.  Attempting to live up to this myth leads some adults to make arbitrary and irrational decisions with regards to the youth that they steward fearing the alternative, which might be saying they don’t know or are not sure.

4. Adults deserve respect but youth must earn it

This is a principle from the purest form of hierarchical patriarchal control model.  Youth, in the inferior position, must automatically respect their adult "superiors" or the whole hierarchy will break down.  Adults agree to take care of and provide for the youth that they steward, but can condition respect based on compliance.  When dealing with other adults in our contemporary culture, we will never acknowledge that this is an ethical practice.  That said, it still happens in the forms of sexual, racial, or other discrimination.

Incidentally... both my kids used to report getting this sort of explicit lecture from some sort of administrator during their first week of school.

5. Youth need limits set for them

Note the phrasing here.  The implication is that youth by default will not set limits for themselves or are incapable of doing so, so adults "shoot first" setting limits, even arbitrary ones for lack of logical ones, and contemplate what makes sense perhaps later.

We all have limits and need to understand what those limits are, but generally through thoughtful contemplation or trial and error we can figure out what those limits are.  Adults, as responsible stewards, need at times to set limits to keep children physically and psychologically safe.  But that’s the equivalent of giving people fish rather than teaching them to fish.  More importantly for human development, an adult steward needs to help a kid develop their own ability to see and set their own limits.  Denying kids the opportunity to learn this skill for themselves (including through difficult trial and error) is denying them the opportunity to develop their own compass and their own agency.

Some people would call all this "permissive".  But I feel the only thing that steering clear of this conventional wisdom permits is the quicker and more complete development of the next generation.  I see a lot of adults get caught up in the above logic because they are afraid that to do otherwise, to perhaps follow more natural instincts and have genuine relationships with youth, will cause them to be judged as unfit for duty and "childish" themselves.

Originally posted to leftyparent on Fri Jun 11, 2010 at 03:34 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (8+ / 0-)

    Cooper Zale Los Angeles

    by leftyparent on Fri Jun 11, 2010 at 03:34:19 PM PDT

  •  Sounds fine in theory, (7+ / 0-)
    but how do we mold kids to be moral, respectful people.  The few people I've known that have foregone discipline of any sort ("consequences") now have pretty annoying, rude kids that are rude to others in public.

    Or am I misreading?

    •  Perhaps you are confusing "foregoing discipline (5+ / 0-)

      of any sort" with (from what I can see) the diarist's suggestion that adults not just set limits, but help a child to set their own limits.  It would involve some discussion and a mutual respect I imagine, which may have been lacking in the "no discipline" upbringing.

      Kids also are different.  I was lucky that mine cared about doing the "right thing" and didn't need a lot of discipline.  I guess some parents aren't as lucky.

      •  Thanks for perhaps saying it better than I... (0+ / 0-)

        and yes, I agree, all kids, all people are different.  Some souls are more cautious, and need encouragement to take perhaps more risks.  Others are more adventurous, and maybe need some help with their limits.  But limits are a tricky thing.  Many limits we have set for ourselves hold us back from full development.

        Cooper Zale Los Angeles

        by leftyparent on Fri Jun 11, 2010 at 04:21:03 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  You may be misreading... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I am not advocating what is known as being "permissive", which is what I see is attempting to give a kid substitutes for a positive relationship with an adult capable of being a helpful steward and mentor.

      I would challenge the need to "mold kids to be moral, respectful people", which to me implies that this goes against human nature.

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles

      by leftyparent on Fri Jun 11, 2010 at 04:15:54 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  In my experience (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      hitting, humiliating and/or ignoring children are not effective means of discipline. In fact, I think these methods actually cause kids to act out more. Kids want to be heard and acknowledged. If we treat them like they're invisable, they will do whatever it takes to get our undivided attention, whether that means positive or negative behaviors.

      For that reason, we need to reinforce the positive behavior as much as possible.Negative behavior can be disciplined with time outs, removal of privledges or other means that don't involve screaming and hitting. Teaching by example is what I personally have found works best.

      •  I agree with your last statement... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        rather than "discipline" including time-outs and removal of privileges.  Though one step better than physical punishment, I still don't think it contributes to self-discipline and finding ones own agency and compass.

        Cooper Zale Los Angeles

        by leftyparent on Fri Jun 11, 2010 at 04:24:21 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Timeouts are punishment that Leftyparent (0+ / 0-)

        thinks is inappropriate.

        I think that's ridiculous, myself.

        •  I'm sure more people agree with you than me... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          But I have to speak the truth as I have lived it and seen it in others.  

          I mean I've carried my screaming two-year-old out of a mall when they had a tantrum, but I never grounded my kids or sent them to their rooms.  What I did do was set a lot of examples and doing a lot of explaining to them when I thought they were behaving inappropriately or putting themselves or other in danger or disrespecting others.  I had enough of a relationship with my kids that this approach, for the most part, worked.

          Cooper Zale Los Angeles

          by leftyparent on Fri Jun 11, 2010 at 04:58:28 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Honest question (5+ / 0-)

    How many kids do you have and how old are they?

    "In his library at Simi Valley, dead Reagan waits dreaming"

    by greatdarkspot on Fri Jun 11, 2010 at 03:49:04 PM PDT

    •  I have two now young adult kids... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      20 and 24, both living their own lives but staying connected with their parents.  Their lives and raising them is a story.  If you are interested see the sections of my Chronologyabout my kids on my blog.

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles

      by leftyparent on Fri Jun 11, 2010 at 07:31:11 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Wow (5+ / 0-)

    According to "convertional wisdom", I've done  absolutely everything wrong.

    My kids have never felt the rod, the wooden spoon, the belt or the smack of a hand.

    They didn't always get their way,and they had to wait their turn, but they were always listened to and their feelings were heard and considered.

    They were taught to respect adults, but that they also had they right to say no to anyone asking them to do anything that did not feel right to them.

    I let them know that I'm fallible, and apologized for my own mistakes. No parent is perfect.

    I trusted them to make choices for themselves. Yup, they'll make mistakes, but they'll learn from them.

    Amazingly, they're not delinquents. One just graduated from UD with a 3.9 GPA and the other just made dean's list. They are both productive and caring members of society. And neither has ever given me cause to worry.....except of course, for the usual stuff every parent worries about! (like wet towels on floor and milk left out!) Gues I was incredibly lucky!!!

  •  I can't imagine... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Prinny Squad

    smacking my 9-year-old son around. Doing so would not only make me feel like a monster, but it's also an ineffective form of discipline.

    Threatening to take away his PSP or telling him that if he keeps on doing whatever is annoying me will result in his not going to his next soccer or baseball game? Much more effective.

    Parenting is hard, and I can only hope and pray that my wife and I are doing the job right. We hear nothing but good things from his teachers, though, so I guess so far, so good.

    I want my son to fear me, but never -- ever -- be afraid of me.

  •  Have you ever taught in a school setting? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    seamus mcdooby, InAntalya

    After one day as a substitute teacher, I never again subbed.  The entire day, the students 'walked all over me' because I naively thought as you did in re #3.

    Am I cynical? Yes I am! - Bob the Builder's lesser known brother Pete the Politician

    by Ezekial 23 20 on Fri Jun 11, 2010 at 04:09:25 PM PDT

    •  No I have not. I have only been a student... (0+ / 0-)

      or had kids who were students.  I do have a lot of friends and family members who are or have been teachers.

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles

      by leftyparent on Fri Jun 11, 2010 at 04:33:44 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well, it likely depends heavily on the students (0+ / 0-)

        their ages, their previous school experiences, their general outlook on education and life in general.  I'd taught a lot before at the college level and had no trouble at all with the students, but I simply couldn't handle the high school age ones.

        Am I cynical? Yes I am! - Bob the Builder's lesser known brother Pete the Politician

        by Ezekial 23 20 on Fri Jun 11, 2010 at 04:36:04 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Sorry (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    thereisnospoon, icemilkcoffee

    I just dont buy the no-spank rule ,,there is a difference in spanking and abuse and if you dont know it you've no biz being a parent.I've seen so many kids go bad because their parents were unable to discipline properly,or just too wishy washy.I have raised two well adjusted mature responsible children.My son I have spanked only twice,my daughter once ,The experience of the spankings alone made my NO's resounding.I've seen kids nowadays call their own Mothers everything but a milk cow ,And it disgusts me,children sent to school without common manners or sense.Then you get some indignant Idiot of a parent raising hell at the schools because they DO have rules.Its hard enough to get children decently educated without throwing in little hellions without discipline disrupting classes.This Dr. Spock bullshit has ruined many kids and parents lives.  

    •  My father thought nothing... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Catte Nappe, kurt, Prinny Squad

      of using physical discipline on my brother and myself. He was a loving, honest, wonderful man, but memories of him in full rage don't exactly warm my heart.

      Partially, it's a generational thing. He was born in 1930's Italy and was raised in an era when parents thought nothing of smacking the kids around. When I became a parent nine years ago, I didn't want to re-create for my son the unfortunate memories I had of my father, so I vowed to myself that I would find a better way to discipline my son.

      Kids don't misbehave because parents don't spank them. They misbehave because their parents don't have a clue as to how to discipline their children effectively. My son knows when I mean business, and his comportment is exemplary.

      And that Dr. Spock book? If I had a dime for every time my wife and I consulted it, especially in the early years, I could retire.

      •  I agree that it is a generational thing... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Prinny Squad

        The human race continues to evolve.

        I misbehaved as a kid (and I guess as an adult too) when I let fear overcome courage, or was momentarily caught up in ego or selfishness at the expense of others.

        Cooper Zale Los Angeles

        by leftyparent on Fri Jun 11, 2010 at 04:39:49 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I guess according to you I have no biz... (0+ / 0-)

      being a parent.  Point taken!

      But with all due respect to you and all the efforts you make as a parent, a little physical violence against kids does go a long way to make verbal forms of coercion more effective.

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles

      by leftyparent on Fri Jun 11, 2010 at 04:36:27 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  physical violence? (0+ / 0-)

        drama is your forte? A simple spanking is not physical violence,Believe me I know the difference.My father was ruff in punishment in ways back in the early 50's was considered abuse.I've beaten by everything from a harness strap to a 2x4.I promised myself then I would never beat or harm my own children ,a few open handed whacks on a child's bottom is not abuse and I assure you there was no real harm caused.

        •  Understand your differentiation... (0+ / 0-)

          though I did not characterize it as abuse... just violence, maybe just done symbolically.  

          I am uncomfortable with even the hint of real or symbolic physical violence, even a little "swat on the behind".  To me it stands for a whole world view that is about control, coercion and authority... people with respect for each other don't swat each other on the bottom.

          Cooper Zale Los Angeles

          by leftyparent on Fri Jun 11, 2010 at 11:31:29 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  I grew up in a time of spanking (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      seamus mcdooby

      Both at home, and allowed at school (the infamous "board of education"). The messages, both good and bad, that are in me to the bone are the verbal ones though - we do/don't do this because....; you should/should not do that because.....  Of a good number of spankings I only recall the specific circumstance and instructional message of one.

      On the other hand, even you note resorting to corporal punishment only three times in the life-time of 2 kids. I have no kids of my own so can't say I wouldn't have succumbed to temptation even more often than that. However, the kids whose behavior you complain of are lacking a great deal more of appropriate and effective parenting than just a spanking.

      Legalism: strict conformity to the letter of the law rather than its spirit

      by Catte Nappe on Fri Jun 11, 2010 at 04:45:17 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks for sharing your experience... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Catte Nappe

        I can only imagine a school that allowed hitting kids!  The way I see it, all institutionalized violence against people is part of a hierarchical patriarchal mind set based on fear and control rather than love and partnership.

        Cooper Zale Los Angeles

        by leftyparent on Fri Jun 11, 2010 at 05:01:49 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  School spanking still legal in 11 states (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Catte Nappe

        I read earlier that school spanking is still allowed in 11 states. Southern states. Unfortunately the same report also says that (surprise!) minority kids got unfairly spanked more often than white kids.

    •  Agreed. Spanking=/= abuse (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      pletzs, seamus mcdooby

      There is a right way to spank, and a wrong way to spank. If done in a controlled manner, with lots of warning before hand, it is arguably a useful tool (maybe not the only tool, but a tool).

      Also, the goal of disciplining should not be 'obedience' That's for the dogs. It should be self-control. Namely self-impulse-control.

  •  additionally... (0+ / 0-)

    whenever any asshat, politician or other, screams about 'the children,' make no mistake...
    it has nothing at all to do with "your children!"  It does all to do with "their children."  Your children are just brats, snots, pains in the ass, whatever.  Their children are the angels, the saviors of tomorrow and, as such, are worthy of better benefits, etc.
    Your children are only good for fodder in the military-industrial complex, preferably as grunts in the military where they will be of "some use."

    Never walk into a public restroom while breathing through your mouth.

    by quityurkidding on Fri Jun 11, 2010 at 04:40:33 PM PDT

  •  Your title sure hit one of my hot buttons (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Matilda, Dixiedemocrat

    "Spare the rod and spoil the child"  And some think that is actually and literally in the Bible (it isn't) The nearest to it is in Proverbs "He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him."

    The idea of the rod as something to spank with does not square with the other scripture "Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me". Derived from the analogy of a shepherd, there is some evidence that the rod was actually used to protect the sheep from predators and dangers. Alternatively, the rod might have been used in conjunction with the staff to prod and guide the sheep to a safer place. In any event, in those times a sheep was as much or more valuable than a child, and would not be beaten or abused.

    Legalism: strict conformity to the letter of the law rather than its spirit

    by Catte Nappe on Fri Jun 11, 2010 at 04:55:37 PM PDT

    •  Thanks for exploring those biblical meaphors... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Catte Nappe, Dixiedemocrat

      though the "He who spares..." full language sounds pretty comparable to our "Spare...spoil" version.

      I find the bible to be a mix of very partnership and very patriarchal principles and tend to agree with Karen Armstrong and other theologians who believe that different books were included and edited by groups of editors with different world views and agendas, including the editing job done by Constantine after the Council of Nicaea.  See her fascinating book, "A History of God".

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles

      by leftyparent on Fri Jun 11, 2010 at 05:08:41 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  In this case (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I'd be more interested in "A History of Sheep Herding". Clearly that is the metaphor, but how was the rod used?

        Was it used to hit, spank, beat the sheep (as many interpret the saying)? That doesn't fit with the Psalm, referencing "comfort"

        Was it used to fight off predators, like wolves? That doesn't follow the sparing the rod vs discipline scripture.

        Or maybe it was used to guide, like a railroad crossing arm - to block movement down a dangerous path and redirect the flock back to the safer route.

        If the latter metaphor, it is certainly true that "he who spares the rod hates his son", because a loving parent will steer children away from known danger or trouble.

        Legalism: strict conformity to the letter of the law rather than its spirit

        by Catte Nappe on Fri Jun 11, 2010 at 05:44:30 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  So maybe the metaphor was taken too literally... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Catte Nappe

          by those Protestants who tried to revitalize the Bible during the Reformation.  Give me a good metaphor any day... much more useful than any literal truth...*g*

          Cooper Zale Los Angeles

          by leftyparent on Fri Jun 11, 2010 at 07:25:55 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Also not in the Bible but (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Catte Nappe

      used to be in the legal code "Rule of Thumb".  The expression "Rule of Thumb" originated from a legal code that essentially said it was okay to beat your wife as long as "the rod" or whatever you were beating her with was no wider than your thumb.  

      Lord, love a duck! Giant meta eye-roll.  

      "The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it." - Flannery O'Conner

      by Dixiedemocrat on Fri Jun 11, 2010 at 05:40:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Agree that 'seen but not heard' robs initiative (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    seamus mcdooby, Dixiedemocrat

    I grew up in an asian culture that still practice that style of discipline. Teaching kids to 'follow orders' is a bad idea in today's world. Your kid will grow up to be a follower. Good for a feudel peon. Not good for today's post-industrial society.

    My current philosophy (which is changing everyday w/ my 2 sons)is that kids should be taught to exercise self-control. Not following orders. Kids (and grown-ups) have raging impulses within them. The whole key is to teach them to control their own impulses, and not let their impulse control them. Another way to say this is, you don't want the kid to following your orders. You want the kid to follow his own orders.

  •  Hot button stuff! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Great diary.  As my favorite college English Prof. used to say "Good Stuff"!  Thanks Leftyparent for giving all of us a lot to mentally chew on.

    I am an adult child of "Spare the Rod" and "Children Should be Seen and not Heard." I would add to your list, Leftyparent, "Because I said so."  

    I am also a Preacher's Daughter.  Translated, I was raised to be "an approval whore" and a family prop. (Sorry for the non p.c. language).  

    As an adult, I've logged some hours on the therapist's couch overcoming very buried resentment of the way I was raised by both of my parents.  I was not "abused", but even as a child, I never felt respected as an individual. I don't have children, but if I did I would want to ENGAGE them early on to think for themselves, to love themselves and others, and to TRUST themselves. Respect and autonomy. But again, I don't have children and I know real life is very different than lofty hypotheticals of "what I would do."  

    BTW, I love both of my parents dearly.  I just had to waste a lot of time and make some bad decisions to learn that ultimately my life was MY own. Having finally absorbed that lesson, there is no longer a need to blame.  I've let it go.

    "The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it." - Flannery O'Conner

    by Dixiedemocrat on Fri Jun 11, 2010 at 05:36:03 PM PDT

    •  Wow... an "approval whore"... great phrase... (0+ / 0-)

      and well said.  I am heartened by your story particularly because you have developed to the point where you can love your parents, despite their weaknesses and their impacts on you.  And I am inspired by your acknowledgment of my piece to write more on this topic.

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles

      by leftyparent on Fri Jun 11, 2010 at 07:46:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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