Columns for March 2013
Notes from the Lair
While working in my secret parenting laboratory, hidden deep beneath the earth’s surface and accessible only by me and a small, select team of associates, I recently made what I believe is a huge and history-making breakthrough that promises to greatly improve parenting the world over.
For years, I have stood almost alone among America’s parenting pundits in defending the legitimacy of “Because I said so,” perhaps the most maligned four words in all of human history. I have gone on record as saying that “Because I said so” affirms the authority of the parent, provides an honest answer to a child’s demand to know the reason behind the parent’s decision, and all but eliminates the possibility of mutually debilitating parent-child argument.
I have pointed out that adults have to accept the BISS principle—when we pay our state and federal taxes, for example—and asserted that it is in the best interest of children therefore that adults make them aware of this reality from an early age. Furthermore, there is no evidence that “Because I said so” damaged the mental health of my generation—the last bunch of American kids to be universally exposed to it; there is no good reason to think, therefore, that it will damage the psyches of today’s children (although they do seem a tad more fragile than we were).
No short list of folks have suggested alternatives to BISS, such as “Because I am an adult and you are a child and it is my responsibility to make decisions of this sort on your behalf and you will not understand my actual reason until you are my age and have a child your age, so there’s no point in my sharing it with you, and whether you agree or not, you have to obey.” Needless to say, the child lost the parent at “responsibility.” Given the choice, I would recommend the simpler, shorter form.
Never would I recommend that BISS be said in other than a kind, yet decisive tone of voice. It should not be screeched at a child, but then neither should anything else. But all of this may be moot, because after years of painstaking and highly secret research, I have discovered an alternative that is even shorter and, therefore, sweeter: “Trust me.”
Think of it! A child asks (demands to know) “Why?” or “Why not?” and the parent in question simply says “Trust me.” That pretty much says it all. Most important, it affirms that the parent knows what is best for the child, whatever the situation. The parent knows (but the child does not) that eating broccoli is better than eating deep fried processed proto-junk, that play should be balanced with household responsibilities, that “my friends all have one!” is not justification for buying a 12-year-old a cell phone, and so on.
Children do not know what is best for them. They only know what they want. And given the choice between what is best and what they want, they can be relied upon to choose the latter. Furthermore, when parents make the right choice for a child, there are no words under the sun that will cause the child to agree. The child will agree when he or she is an adult and is the parent of children who are demanding what they want. No sooner.
In the meantime, all one can do is ask the child to trust. To which someone might say, “But he won’t understand that either!” That’s all right. Faith is a long-term investment.
Q: In our city, most of the high school seniors participate in “Senior Beach Week” during spring break. They rent beach houses and condos and party like there’s no tomorrow. Alcohol, marijuana, and sex abound. Our friends justify allowing their kids to go by saying they have to be trusted sometime. In truth, we all have good kids who have never given us any trouble. They just want to go and be part of the scene. Our nephew’s parents, however, refuse to let him go. They say it’s irresponsible even if the child in question has been trustworthy to this point. We are wavering back and forth on letting our 17-year-old son attend. He assures us he won’t get into trouble. What are your thoughts?
A: My immediate thought is that it requires a serious lapse of common sense for a person to play with an explosive device, even if it has a safety and it’s never gone off. In other words, the fact that a youngster has been trouble-free and trustworthy to date is no guarantee that he will not spontaneously combust if put in the wrong situation. It’s not a matter of trust; it’s a matter of understanding that ALL teens are impressionable (some more than others) and want to be accepted by their peers. It would be one thing if these kids were all members of a church youth group going on a mission trip to a third-world country. It’s quite another when the destination is the modern equivalent of Gomorrah.
I strongly suspect that parents who justify allowing their kids to attend this weeklong bacchanalia by saying “Well, you gotta trust ‘em sometime,” are really afraid to incur the negative emotional reaction that is bound to happen if they say no. They want to be liked by their kids, so they let them do things that strain common sense. Your nephew’s parents are to be commended for standing their ground. Certainly the talk will be that they’re overprotective and controlling and so on. That’s just more justification on the part of parents who desperately need to rationalize making a really bad decision.
Too many of today’s parents have let having a good relationship with their kids take priority over providing effective leadership, part of which involves the willingness to make unpopular decisions. Instead, they think like politicians, always worried about doing something that might hurt their chances of re-election (or, in this case, something that might cause their kids to not like them for a while, as if that’s relevant to anything). Politics and parenting don’t mix.
In lieu of putting your foot down and taking the inevitable heat, you might propose to your son that since he has no intention of doing anything inappropriate, the entire family will go on spring break together. During the day, he can hobnob with his friends but the evenings will be family time. That plan would afford him a reasonable amount of freedom while at the same time minimizing the potential risks. Furthermore, instead of being ogres, you’re just a couple of fuddy-duddies. You can live with that, I’m sure.