Q. Why do today's parents have more problems with obedience than their grandparents ever thought possible?
A. Since obedience requires that a child (a) clearly and correctly perceives that his parents are providing for him the steady authority he cannot provide himself and, therefore, (b) pays close attention to them, the answer is obvious: Many if not most of today's parents do not cause their children to (a), so children do not do (b).
The question then becomes: Why not?
Because today's parents - and especially those of the sort that consume parenting information - (a) desire close relationships with their children and (b) pay lots of attention to them.
Respect requires boundaries. People who do not establish clear relationship boundaries open themselves to being manipulated, exploited, and taken for granted - that is, disrespected. Not coincidentally, those happen to be complaints I often hear from today's parents. To cut to the chase, their children do not respect them. Right. In the course of striving to form close relationships with their children, they fail to establish boundaries.
This is especially true of today's moms who, paradoxically, have no problem telling their husbands, I'm not available right now, but have great difficulty bringing themselves to say the same to their kids. In fact, if they were constantly available to their husbands, most of their husbands might like it, but they'd have far less respect for them. Their children are no different.
The notion that parents should not enter into close relationships with children is radical only to someone who was not a child in the 1950s or before.
As was my case, the pre-1960s parent was in close relationship with his or her spouse and/or friends, not his or her children. That's why we emancipated earlier and more successfully and why our mental health, as children, was so much better than is today's kids' mental health. Dependency has its season, but that season is finite.
Concerning attention, the simple fact is that the more attention a parent pays to a child, the less attention the child will pay to the parent. In a young child's mind, paying attention is either the parent's obligation or his own. As a general rule, today's parents make it clear that this is their obligation.
As we are told is likely, good intentions have backfired once again. But the problem of ubiquitous child disobedience is not simply a function of good parental intentions. It is the logical consequence of the very bad parenting advice mental health professionals have been dispensing since parents began listening to them in the 1960s.
They said high self-esteem was a good thing, and we believed them because, after all, they had capital letters after their names (as do I). The research now says that people with high self-esteem have low regard for others. Hello?
They said that firm, because I said so authority was a bad thing. The research now says that the most happy kids have parents who provide firm, because I said so authority, along with a love that will go the distance.
So much for capital letters.
It takes some effort, but it is possible for parents to turn the parenting clock, in their own homes, back 60 years. I personally know some who've done it. Without exception, their children obey them. No surprise there.
John Rosemond is a family psychologist. Questions of general interest may be sent to him at Affirmative Parenting, 1020 E. 86th St. Suite 26B, Indianapolis, IN 46260 and at his website, rosemond.com.