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The Power of No in Parenting and Education

15.12.2012 (11:34 pm) – Filed under: Child Care,Education,Parenting,Society ::

I first have to say that I know a lot of great teenagers. I’m immensely proud of my sons and almost as much so of many of their friends. I stopped as I was writing this and nearly discarded it, keenly aware that I could inadvertently hurt one of these great kids by causing them to think that this essay was directed at them. It’s not. This for the millions, the lost, not the dozens I know so well.

As comforting as the example of these fine young people is to me personally, it’s nonetheless true that some parents and society as a whole have failed to teach a sizable percentage of this generation of young adults the value of the word “No”. No, as in:

  • “The actions you are taking are unacceptable and will be met with punishment if you repeat them.”
  • “The line of thinking you are pursuing is invalid and these are the unassailable reasons why.”
  • “The things you see in video games, movies, and on the Net are not representative of proper ways of behaving.”
  • “There are people who say that there are no absolutes, no truly right or wrong actions, no definable moral code; however, these people are absolutely wrong and in this house you will follow a code of ethics and morality or face the consequences.”

Our young people hear the word “No” often enough, but in the wrong ways. In our schools and in too many homes, the word “No” is used to tell children that they cannot judge themselves and others in terms of right and wrong, that they cannot hold opinions that might conflict with others’, no matter how obviously foolish, and they certainly cannot give such opinions voice. At other times, “No” is used to say, “No, you cannot be educated to the best of your ability because that would mean someone else cannot keep up with you” and “You cannot carry on the traditions of Christmas and Easter here, because one person chooses to be offended by the things that this country has always believed in.” In such circumstances, it’s hardly surprising that value of the word “No” has been destroyed.

At the same time, in politically correct circles, the idea of judging and correcting a wayward child is all but verboten. There are no right or wrong actions, only ambiguous desires and causeless effects, neither of which have any moral value attached. In progressives’ fantasy world, children grow up free and unhindered by anything as base as ethical judgments of their actions and automatically self-correct their aberrant behavior.

Of course, we see the effects of this failed experiment all around us. Raising children in an amoral, rule-free manner will not reliably result in young adults who live by a well-ordered, societally-sanctioned code of ethics. It is true that many youngsters rise above their upbringing and do so to their credit; however, at the macro level, this way of creating future citizens is doomed to fail. The lack of obedience and proper behavior we see in many of our youngsters is both the ultimate failure of liberal permissiveness and its inevitable result.

In our enlightened society, punishment of misbehaving children is considered crude, gauche, and even criminal. Yet there is no way for children to learn that their actions and thought processes are wrong unless someone corrects them.  Sometimes, this has to be done with enough oomph to make the lesson stick. Unfortunately, as unpleasant as it is – and it is unpleasant, for adult and child alike – there are occasions when the best mechanism for the delivery of a rebuke or reminder is by way of the buttocks.

(Understand that I am not suggesting anything in regard to the perpetrator of the crimes in Connecticut. Some children become even more incorrigible as a result of a structured, moral upbringing and this might or might not be true of this psycho. I have no idea and not much more interest. What is important is fixing the future.)

In the final analysis, considering society as a whole, there is no doubt in my mind that we have erred by sparing the rod and spoiling too many children. The sad fact is that, by pandering to the don’t worry, be happy, do-it-if-it-feels-right crowd, we have vastly diminished the rights of parents and the community to demand good and proper behavior from children and their ability to enforce their rightful authority.