The Power of No in Parenting and Education

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.

How Rich I Am

Facts as the web sees them are infinitely malleable, so I’m taking Global Rich List’s result with a grain of salt:


Another thing to consider relative to my extraordinary selfishness is that my fixed expenses are undoubtedly in the top 2% as well. Still, it is food for thought. One can sponsor a child through Compassion International for a mere $38/month, which is far less than a U.S. family spends on satellite TV or their Internet connection.

Grandstanding Buffoon Misses Point in Teacher Firing

Quanell X, grandstander supreme and champion of criminals, among other well-deserved titles, completely missed the point in the recent flap in Houston after a teacher allowed students to hit the class bully. The man is so wrong, so often, that he must be doing it on purpose.

The X-man’s take:

"What that teacher did was so reprehensible, so foul and wrong, why did you not make a police report about what this woman did?"

The reality:

"The kid didn’t get beat up — this is a kid who has repeatedly beat up kids in my school," [director of Robindell Private School Chuck] Wall said. "He had punched a little girl like a punching bag and was caught by one of my teachers and what he got back … was absolutely minor in comparison to what he did to this poor little girl." Wall said the boy’s parents have been unresponsive to the school’s pleas for help in controlling the child.

The boy’s mother goes on to make excuses for him, saying that he has medical conditions. True or not, schools cannot tolerate students who are negative influences, particularly those who create an unsafe environment for their peers.

Wall had to fire the teacher for instigating an escalation in violence, true. But the truth is that the brat needed to learn the very lesson she taught him, namely that violence begets a violent response.

It’s unfortunate that the teacher in question had to lose her job because of failing parents, a failing educational system, and a failing society. She will pay the price in terms of her career for a school system that lacks the ability to purge itself of miscreants who render it unable to fulfill its function, educating those who can learn. Of course, it’s unfair to blame the school because we, as a society, lack the moral courage to state the obvious: Some children simply do not belong in mainstream school classrooms.

Devarius Williams is evidently one such child. Woe to the children and teachers at his next school. Perhaps Mr. X should consider their pain before blabbering on about what’s reprehensible.


Another interesting note to this story is the Chronicle’s ad hominem attack against Mr. Wall:

Wall said he fired the teacher the next day after Williams’ mother called the school to report the incident. He said she was the second teacher to be fired in six weeks for allowing another student to strike the boy.

Wall, whose school offers up to 12 hours of daily care for $110 a week, then disparaged the boy’s parents.

Regarding “disparaged the boy’s parents”? How so? In whose opinion? Based on what words, exactly?

Frankly that’s a line I would have expected from the Magnolia Potpourri back in the day when it was run out of a one-room shack, not one of the country’s leading newspapers and the only source of print media in the 4th largest city in the U.S.

ADHD Medicine’s Value Over Time


In 1999, a group of researchers led by William Pelham released the Multimodal Treatment Study of Children with ADHD (MTA), a paper that failed to note the benefits that children receive from their medicine decline over time.  The MTA ran into controversy when an academic review of the paper questioned why it played down negative effects of the drug and team members publicly stated that the report was biased in favor of drug treatment programs.

Now the latest data, released in 2007, shows that children who were medicated for 3 years showed no behavioral improvements over un-medicated peers.  Interestingly, the medicated children were shown to be slightly shorter and lighter, implying that the drugs may have interfered with their natural growth processes.

Brooke Molina, also a co-author and a University of Pittsburgh associate professor of psychology and psychiatry…said the data do not “support that children who stay on medication longer than two years have better outcomes than children who don’t.”

And James Swanson, another MTA co-author and a psychologist at the University of California at Irvine said:

“If you want something for tomorrow, medication is the best, but if you want something three years from now, it does not matter,” he said. “If you take medication long-term beyond three years, I don’t think there is any evidence that medication is better than no medication.”

William Pelham, who seems to have done an about-face in regard to his original findings, now says that the primary purpose of ADHD medicine is to give parents an opportunity to get their child behavioral counseling.

A yet-to-be published study, Pelham added, found that 95 percent of parents who were told by clinicians to first try behavioral interventions for ADHD followed through on that advice. When parents were given a prescription for a drug and then told to enroll their children in behavioral intervention programs, 75 percent did not seek out the behavioral approaches.

Obviously that doesn’t bode well for the majority of children diagnosed with the disorder given the short-term nature of drug therapy.  Two reason spring to mind that might explain the drop-off in parental follow-through.  First, the drugs’ short-term effects may lead parents to falsely believe that their child is somehow cured and that no other action is needed on their part.  Second, behavioral counseling undoubtedly takes more time and effort on the part of parents than opening a bottle of pills.  Unfortunately, I think that part of the 75% is simple laziness.

Federal Judge OKs "Morning After" Pill for Juveniles – Parental Consent Unnecessary

U.S. District Judge Edward Korman says that the Food and Drug Administration’s refusal to approve Plan B for over-the-counter use by juvenile girls was politically motivated.

“These political considerations, delays, and implausible justifications for decision-making are not the only evidence of a lack of good faith and reasoned decision-making,” Korman said. “Indeed, the record is clear that the FDA’s course of conduct regarding Plan B departed in significant ways from the agency’s normal procedures regarding similar applications to switch a drug product from prescription to non-prescription use.”

Korman’s justification for his ruling is that the FDA rejected the advice of a committee it assembled to review the question of allowing minors access to the drug.  Was the committee’s opinion binding in some way?  Undoubtedly not.  Still, the facts may be as Korman has stated them.

What is clear is that 17-year-old girls are still subject to parental control, making the issue one that, like abortion, concerns parents just as much as it does the sexually active teen.  The parents’ legal rights and responsibilities now seem to have been swept aside in favor of those of minors engaged in ill-advised activities.

Will another birth control opportunity help reduce total teenage pregnancies?  Or will it provide another excuse for teens to have sex long before they are mentally, physically, or fiscally ready to assume responsibility for their actions? 

Sounds like a Master’s thesis question waiting to be developed.

More Congressional Censorship, Inadvertent This Time?

I recently wrote about public libraries planning to ban older books because of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act passed by Congress last year.  The NY City Journal has picked up on the story now that the damage seems to be spreading to retail book resellers.

Not until 1985 did it become unlawful to use lead pigments in the inks, dyes, and paints used in children’s books. Before then—and perhaps particularly in the great age of children’s-book illustration that lasted through the early twentieth century—the use of such pigments was not uncommon, and testing can still detect lead residues in books today. This doesn’t mean that the books pose any hazard to children.

As many have written in regard to the Democrats’ colossal spending bill that’s just passed into law, the first priority of all governmental action should be this simple maxim – First Do No Harm.

Old books never hurt anyone save for the barbed words written on the page.  Certain of them have been toxic in that regard and remain in the hands of readers to young, naive, or foolish to make proper evaluations of their contents.  Yet there is no complaint from Congress on that score despite the damage wrong by bad ideas spread in the 60s.

One can only make two assumptions about legislation such as CPSIA: Either Congress fears children will consume by mouth sufficient quantities of lead trace ink in proportion to lab rats testing the cancer-causing profile of artificial sweeteners or they are simply incompetent.

You be the judge.

“Imagine, if you will, that I am an idiot.
Then, imagine that I am also a Congressman.
But, alas, I repeat myself.”
— Mark Twain

Study: TV Sex Leads to Teen Pregnancies

The Washington Post reports that a new study has determined the obvious: teenagers who watch sexually explicit programs on television are more likely to become pregnant than those who don’t.

“Watching this kind of sexual content on television is a powerful factor in increasing the likelihood of a teen pregnancy,” said lead researcher Anita Chandra. “We found a strong association.” The study is being published today in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

About 25 percent of those who watched the most were involved in a pregnancy, compared with about 12 percent of those who watched the least. The researchers took into account other factors such as having only one parent, wanting to have a baby and engaging in other risky behaviors.

Surprise, surprise.  More:

Although TV viewing is unlikely to entirely explain the possible uptick in teen pregnancies, Chandra and others said, the study provides the first direct evidence that it could be playing a significant role.

“Sexual content on television has doubled in the last few years, especially during the period of our research,” said Chandra, a researcher at the nonpartisan Rand Corp.

Studies have found a link between watching television shows with sexual content and becoming sexually active earlier, and between sexually explicit music videos and an increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases. And many studies have shown that TV violence seems to make children more aggressive. But the new research is the first to show an association between TV watching and pregnancy among teens.

The study doesn’t weigh in on the debate between advocates of sex education in public schools and those who favor spending public money on abstinence-only programs.  That argument can be expected to continue during an Obama presidency that I expect will put more emphasis on the former.

Neither approach is likely to be a silver bullet because the problem is multi-faceted, the major players being teens themselves, their parents, their friends, and the media.  The last of these is now inescapably linked to the biggest problems that teenagers face in America.  But the media’s response is likely to be to ignore their culpability. 

As Time says, TV sex is getting more and more explicit in shows targeting kids.  Sex sells, even to teens and younger children, and that’s evidently broadcasters’ business model.

Sex on TV has come a long way in the past few years. Anyone who saw the first episode of 90210— a pair of students engage in oral sex in the first episode of the new sequel to Beverly Hills 90210 — can attest to that.

As the only influencing factors in a teenager’s life that are truly capable of caring or changing their behavior, it’s up to parents to reject the inappropriate influence of media in their children’s lives.  It’s also incumbent on them to take up the matter of sex and marriage with their kids at an earlier age than ever before, before it’s too late.

Second-Guessing Witnesses

The SF Chronicle says:

The town of Turlock and much of the rest of the nation was shocked when a 27-year-old man beat and stomped his 2-year-old son to death on a rural road. But what was nearly as stunning for many people was that none of the motorists and their passengers who stopped and saw the attack tried to tackle the man.

The story goes on to discuss how average citizens aren’t psychologically prepared to deal with a situation like that, how we’re unsure of ourselves and easily cowed into inaction, etc.  All of these things are true, of course, but at no point does the article venture into more core issues. 

For one, suppose one of the witnesses had attempted to physically intervene on the boy’s behalf.  If the obviously deranged father began to get the better of the Good Samaritan, would anyone else have jumped in to help?  In my mind that’s the most important aspect of the psychological angle – our complete lack of confidence in the willingness of others to do what is right and necessary.

Similarly, no mention is made of adults’ inherent moral obligation to come of the aid of a defenseless child.  Yet this obligation exists, whether our modern society chooses to acknowledge it or not.  Our lack of faith in our fellow man is understandable.  But it’s a little harder to accept our lack of faith in God.  Does He condone inaction in such a case?  No.  Does that not compel us to do what He wants us to do?

Finally, the paper fails to mention the chilling effect of America’s lawsuit-happy legal system on the willingness of these people to physically restrain the killer.  If they’d ganged up on the murderer and beaten him into submission there’s a high likelihood that they would have faced legal action as a result.  No judge or jury in their right mind would convict them, but travesties of the law have happened before.  The mere fact of being named in such a suit brings with it major legal expenses and possible financial penalties, possible loss of employment, etc.  This unfortunate side-effect of our litigious society limits in the extreme, I think, our willingness to act.

Shock and surprise can stop us from doing what’s right.  But fundamental flaws in our legal and moral codes do so even more effectively.

Personally I hope I’m never confronted with such choice.  While I’m relatively strong and athletic for my age – 42 – I wouldn’t be confident facing down a younger, stronger, enraged brute alone.  Praying for moral courage to override physical cowardice might be the only way I could do what was right.  I wonder if anyone did so that night?  That too unknown.

Effects of Feminism

Rebecca Walker, daughter of feminism and author Alice Walker, who publicly called her own child a calamity in her life, has some interesting things to say about the movement.  Well worth reading.

the truth was I was very lonely and, with my mother’s knowledge, started having sex at 13. I guess it was a relief for my mother as it meant I was less demanding. And she felt that being sexually active was empowering for me because it meant I was in control of my body.

A good mother is attentive, sets boundaries and makes the world safe for her child. But my mother did none of those things.

Although I was on the Pill  -  something I had arranged at 13, visiting the doctor with my best friend  -  I fell pregnant at 14. I organised an abortion myself. Now I shudder at the memory. I was only a little girl. I don’t remember my mother being shocked or upset. She tried to be supportive, accompanying me with her boyfriend.

Although I believe that an abortion was the right decision for me then, the aftermath haunted me for decades. It ate away at my self-confidence and, until I had Tenzin, I was terrified that I’d never be able to have a baby because of what I had done to the child I had destroyed. For feminists to say that abortion carries no consequences is simply wrong.

As a child, I was terribly confused, because while I was being fed a strong feminist message, I actually yearned for a traditional mother.

I know many women are shocked by my views. They expect the daughter of Alice Walker to deliver a very different message. Yes, feminism has undoubtedly given women opportunities. It’s helped open the doors for us at schools, universities and in the workplace. But what about the problems it’s caused for my contemporaries?

Then there is the issue of not having children. Even now, I meet women in their 30s who are ambivalent about having a family. They say things like: ‘I’d like a child. If it happens, it happens.’ I tell them: ‘Go home and get on with it because your window of opportunity is very small.’ As I know only too well.

Then I meet women in their 40s who are devastated because they spent two decades working on a PhD or becoming a partner in a law firm, and they missed out on having a family. Thanks to the feminist movement, they discounted their biological clocks. They’ve missed the opportunity and they’re bereft.

Feminism has betrayed an entire generation of women into childlessness. It is devastating.

But far from taking responsibility for any of this, the leaders of the women’s movement close ranks against anyone who dares to question them  -  as I have learned to my cost.

Walker’s views closely mirror those of Lori Gottlieb, who wrote this popular, much-debated article for Atlantic a few months ago.

There’s something to this, I think.  Even if it’s nothing more than the opportunity cost of a chance not taken, getting something always means giving up something else.

Has feminism been worth the cost to those who have been on its front lines?  And what about the families they left behind by not having them or not being there?

The questions applies to many men as well, of course, although it’s less interesting to me because our work/sport-centric lifestyles haven’t undergone the radical change that feminism demands of young women.

Having children does enslave women, in a certain sense of the word.  Many mothers give up a good portion of their lives for their children.  Of course, the same is true for men – at least the ones who don’t run away from their responsibilities.  Having children is the most demanding activity in a person’s life, man or woman.  It’s also the only thing worth doing on this planet.

1st Grade Harassment

In pointing out another case of legalistic lunacy, Susan Duclos writes:

The "zero tolerance" policy at some school and in some states, reaches levels of complete incompetence when a 6 years gets written up as a sexual offender for copying what another kid did and playfully smacking little Katherine DeLeon on the bottom twice.

Where is the line drawn between zero tolerance and common sense?

When are school officials going to start using judgment instead of some generic general rule to decide a case on an individual basis?

In what alternate reality do we live in where a six year old or a four year old are accused of being a sexual offender, simply because they are too young to understand their natural inclination to play and touch are wrong?

I don’t want to justify this kind of gutless, inept decision, because it’s wrong and stupid just as Spree says.  But there are many reasons why school officials make these kind of decisions and it’s important for parents who care – which is a minority, to be sure – to realize that they aren’t made in a complete vacuum. 

Let’s touch on a few, shall we?

First, realize that when little Johnny can’t behave during school, teachers and principals are usually powerless to discipline him in a manner that teaches the cause-effect relationship; i.e., misbehave repeatedly in school and an unpleasant rump-paddling will occur.  Bad behavior stops.  But that’s so direct, it’s offensive to the refined values of a certain misguided segment of the parental population, to say nothing of the know-it-alls who define what are and are not acceptable ways to teach children.

Strike 1.

Second, consider the effect that a single willfully ignorant parent has on an entire classroom of children.  Given that real discipline cannot be meted out during school hours – somehow assigning extra work to a kid who doesn’t do his regular assignments just isn’t effective… go figure – teachers must rely on Johnny’s mom and dad to take care of modifying his bad behavior.  That works about as well as you’d expect given that his parents are the ones who have molded his actions from the time of his birth.

Far too often mom and dad either refuse to attend parent-teacher conferences as scheduled or show up only to blindly defend their child.  Yes, it’s unpleasant to be told that one’s baby is a brat or a bully or refuses to give teachers and classmates the respect they deserve.  It’s hard.  But it’s often the truth and too many parents refuse to accept what they’re being told.  Parental follow-up is therefore lacking in many discipline situations.

Strike 2.

Third, teachers and principals are college-educated individuals, most of whom have a genuine desire to teach their students to the best of their ability.  They are also over-stressed, over-worked (during the school year), and woefully under-paid relative to their education level, job requirements, and, most importantly, expectations.  As a result, burnout is common.

Common sense, which is lacking, I realize, tells me that teachers ought to take a break in their careers to do something different for a while, to interact with other adults in professional settings and to get their enthusiasm back.

But this is discouraged by administrators who often have trouble simply filling teaching slots with qualified instructors to begin with.  The problem is further exacerbated by the teachers union and the retirement system that it has put in place. 

There is only one way for an educator to grow old in relative prosperity after working for decades for low wages:  retire through the Teachers Retirement System.  This requires varying years of service depending on one’s locale but is certainly at least 20 years and often more.

The system is thus heavily back-loaded and forces educators to continue working in the profession when their interest level and enthusiasm – very important qualities in a teacher – have waned or vanished.

This is important when it comes to cases like the one in question because using common sense, as Spree rightly demands, can be a risky endeavor.  This is especially true when a teacher or principal can be called to account in front of the school board for failing to invoke the applicable but draconian policy called for by the district’s policy manual.

The truth is that educators often cannot afford to act as reason tells them to for fear of legal repercussions or outright fear of physical assault at the hands of parents.

Strike 3.

So yes, it’s a bad, useless decision to label a 6-year-old as a sex offender. 

An assistant director of the National Association of School Psychologists, Ted Feinberg, says he is "stunned" by the school’s reaction to a child of six that has no concept of what those behaviors mean and he states, "I believe they do not have the capacity for awareness of sexual motivation … it seems like a gross mislabeling of the behavior and an overreaction."

It’s also something that can be reasonably predicted given the environment in which educators find themselves.